North America’s Northeast Indian Tribes

The Abenaki Tribe

The Abenaki are a Native American tribe and one of the First Nations. The people of this tribe are one of the Algonquian-speaking peoples of Northeastern North America and live in Quebec, the Maritimes of Canada and in the New England region of the United States. The region is called Wabanahkik in the Eastern Algonquian languages, in English this means “Dawn Land”. The Abenaki are one of the five members of the Wabanaki Confederacy.

“Abenaki” is a linguistic and geographic grouping. In history there was no strong central authority, but were numerous smaller bands and tribes that shared many cultural traits that came together as a post-contact community after the original tribes were decimated by European colonization, disease and warfare.

Where Were the Abenaki Located?

The homeland of the Abenaki, which, before European contact was known as Ndakinna (“our land” in English), had extended across most of northern New England, southern Quebec, and the southern Canadian Maritimes area. The Eastern Abenaki population were centralized in portions of New Brunswick, Maine and east of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Another major tribe, the Western Abenaki, had lived in the Connecticut River valley, located in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The Missiquoi lived along the eastern shore of Lake Champlain and the Pennacook lived along the Merrimack River in the southern part of New Hampshire. The Maritime Abenaki lived around St. Croix and Wolastoq (the Saint John River) valleys that are near the boundary line between Maine and New Brunswick in Canada.

The Abenaki were forced to retreat to Quebec, Canada when the English settled throughout their territory and frequent wars occurred in the area as well. The Abenaki settled into the Sillery region of Quebec between 1676 and 1680, and for about twenty years, lived on the banks of the Chaudiere River near the falls before they settled in Odanak and Wolinak in the early 18th century.

During these times, the Abenaki practiced a subsistence economy that was based on hunting, fishing, trapping, and berry picking. They would also grow corn, beans, squash, potatoes and tobacco. The Abenaki peoples would produce baskets that were made of ash and sweet grass that were used for picking berries. Basket weaving remains a traditional activity for members of both communities. They had also made syrup.

abenaki basket

An example of an Abenaki basket


At the time of the Anglo-French wars, the Abenaki were allies with the French, as they had been displaced from Ndakinna by the immigrating English peoples. A story passed down from this time, tells of a Maliseet war chief by the name of Nescambuit or Assacumbuit who had killed more than 140 enemies of King Louis XIV of France and had received the rank of a knight. Not all of the Abenaki natives fought on the side of the French however, many had remained on their native lands in the northern colonies. Much of the Abenaki’s trapping was done by the people and they’d trade with the English colonists for more durable goods. These contributions by the Native American Abenaki peoples had largely went unreported.

Two Abenaki tribal communities would later form in Canada. One of these had been known as the Saint-Francois-du-lac and lived near Pierreville, Quebec and is now called Odanak, Abenaki, which in English means coming home. The other Abenaki tribe moved near Becancour and are now known as the Wolinak, they resided and still do, on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River, directly across the river from Trois-Rivieres. These two reserves continue to grow and develop today. Since 2000, the total Abenaki population, both on and off the reserve, has doubled to 2,101 members as of 2011. About four hundred Abenaki reside on these two reserves, which cover a total area of less than 2.7 squire miles (7 sq. km.). A majority of unrecognized Abenaki are off-reserve members and they live in various cities and towns across both Canada and the United States.

There are about 3,200 Abenaki that live in Vermont and New Hampshire, without reservations and chiefly around Lake Champlain. The remaining people live in multi-racial towns and cities across Canada and the United States, mainly in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and northern New England. There are still four Abenaki tribes that are located in Vermont, two of which are officially recognized Abenaki tribes as of the 22nd of April 2011. These are the Nulhegan Band of Coosuk-Abenaki and the Elnu Abenaki Tribe. On the 7th of May 2012, the Abenaki Nation at Missisquoi and the Koasek Traditional Band of Koas Abenaki Nation had received recognition as well by the state of Vermont. The Nuthegan are located in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and have their tribal headquarters in Brownington. The Elnu Abenaki are in the southeastern part of Vermont with their tribal headquarters in Jamaica, Vermont. These tribes focus mainly on carrying on the traditions of their ancestors through their children by teaching them about their culture. The Sokoki, the Abenaki Nation at Missisquoi, are located along the Missisquoi River in the northwestern part of Vermont, with their tribal headquarters in Swanton. The Sokoki’s traditional land is along the river and extends to its outlet at Lake Champlain.

During December of 2012, Vermont’s Nulhegan Abanaki Tribe created a tribal forest in the town of Barton. This forest was established with the assistance of the Vermont Sierra Club and Vermont Land Trust, it contains a hunting camp and maple sugaring facilities. These areas are administered cooperatively by Nulhegan and contains seventy acres.

Brunswick Springs Vermont

Brunswick Springs


The St. Francis Missisquoi Tribe owns the forest land in the town of Brunswick and it is centered around Brunswick Springs. These springs are believed to be a sacred traditional religious site of the Abenaki. Together these forests are the only Abanaki held lands outside of the existing reservations in Quebec and Maine.

The Abenaki Language

The language of the Abenaki is closely related to the Panawahpskek (Penobscot) language. Other neighboring Wabanaki tribes, Pestomuhkati (Passamaquoddy), Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), and Mi’kmaq, and other Eastern Algonquian languages share similar linguistics. The Abenaki language has come close to extinction as a spoken language. Tribal members are working to revive the Abenaki language at Odanak (in English “in the village”) and throughout New Hampshire, Vermont and New York state.

The Abenaki language is holophrastic, meaning that a phrase or entire sentence is expressed by a single word. For example, the word for “white man” is awanoch, which is a combination of the words awani, meaning “who” and uji, meaning “from”. In this way, the word for “white man” literally would translate to “Who is this man and where does he come from?”.

History of the Abenaki

In historian Diana Muir’s “Reflections in Bullough’s Pond”, she argues that the Abenaki’s neighbors, the pre-contact Iroquois, were an imperialist, expansionist culture, whose cultivation of corn, beans and squash agricultural complex had enabled them to support a large population of people. They had made war primarily against neighboring Algonquian people, including the Abenaki. Muir uses archaeological data to argue that the Iroquois expansion onto the Algonquian’s lands was checked by the Algonquian’s adoption of agriculture. This had enabled them to support their own populations and was also large enough for them to have warriors to defend against the threat of the Iroquois conquest.

During 1614, Thomas Hunt had captured twenty-four young Abenaki people and took them to England. During the European colonization of North America, the land that had been occupied by the Abenaki was in the area between the new colonies of England in Massachusetts and the French in Quebec. Since there was no party that agreed to the territorial boundaries, there was regular conflict among them. The Abenaki were traditionally allied with the French, and during the reign of Louis XIV, Chief Assacumbuit was a designated member of the French nobility for his service.

Facing annihilation from the attacks by the English and epidemics of new infectious diseases, the Abenaki began to emigrate to Quebec around 1669. The governor of New France had allocated two seigneuries, or large self-administered areas that are similar to feudal fiefs. The first was on the Saint Francis River and is now known as the Odanak Indian Reservation, the second was founded near Becancour and is called Wolinak Indian Reservation.

The Abenaki Wars

When the Wampanoag people under King Philip (Metacomet) fought against the English colonists in New England in 1675 during King Philip’s War, the Abenaki had pushed back the line of white settlement by causing devastating raids on scattered farmhouses and small villages. The war would be settled by a peace treaty in 1678, with Wampanoag more than decimated and many of the Native survivors being sold into slavery in Bermuda.

During Queen Anne’s War in 1702, the Abenaki allied themselves with the French. They would raid numerous small villages in Maine, Wells and Casco, killing about three hundred settlers over ten years. These raids stopped when the war ended but some captives were generally ransomed and the colonies carried on a quick trade.

The Third Abenaki War, from 1722 to 1725, was known as Father Rale’s War. It had erupted when the French Jesuit missionary Sebastien Rale (or Rasles) encouraged the Abenaki to stop the spread of Yankee settlements. When the Massachusetts militia tried to capture Rasles, the Abenaki raided the settlements at Brunswick, Arrowsick and Merry-Meeting Bay. The government of Massachusetts then declared war and bloody battles were fought at Norridgewock in 1724, which is where Rasles was killed, and at a battle that lasted a whole day at the Indian village near present-day Fryeburg, Maine, on the upper Saco River in 1725. In Boston and Casco Bay, peace conferences brought an end to the war. After Rale had died, the Abenaki moved to a settlement on the St. Francis River.

The Abenaki from St. Francois continued to raid British settlements in their former homelands along the New England frontier during Father Le Loutre’s War.

Vermont Abenaki

In 2006, the state of Vermont had officially recognized the Abenaki as a People, but not a Tribe. The state had noted that many of the Abenaki had been assimilated and only small remnants remained on reservations during and after the French and Indian War. Later eugenics projects further decimated the Abenaki people of America through forced sterilization and questionable ‘miscarriages’ at birth. As was stated previously, when facing annihilation, many Abenaki began to emigrate to Canada, which was then under French control around the year 1669.

The Sokoki-St. Francis Band of the Abenaki Nation had organized a tribal council in 1976 in Swanton, Vermont. The state had granted the council recognition in this same year, but would later withdraw it. In 1982, the band had applied for federal recognition, which is still pending. There are, however, four Abenaki communities that are located in Vermont. On the 22nd of April 2011, Vermont had officially recognized two Abenaki bands, the Nulhegan Band of Coosuk-Abenaki and the El Nu Abenaki Tribe.

On the 7th of May 2012, the Abenaki Nation at Missisquoi and the Koasek of the Koas Abenaki Traditional Band received their recognition from the state of Vermont. Those who chose to remain in the United States did not fare as well as their Canadian counterparts. The tribal connections were lost, as the Abenaki who were tolerated by the Anglo population were assimilated into colonial society. What familial groups remained were often eradicated. In the early part of the 20th century, forced sterilization and pregnancy termination policies in Vermont took place. There were over 3,400 reported cases of sterilization of the Abenaki having been performed, many of which involved the termination of unborn fetuses. There’s no documentation of informed consent for these procedures that has ever been found. After this time, the only Abenaki that remained in the United States were those who could pass for white, or avoided capture and subsequent dissolution of their families through forced internment in “schools” after they were sterilized.

At the time, many of the children who had been sterilized were not even aware of what their physician had done to them. The sterilizations were performed under auspices of the Brandon School of the Feeble-Minded and the Vermont Reform School. It was in 1911 that this was documented in the “Preliminary Report of the Committee of the Eugenic Section of the American Breeder’s Association to Study and Report on the Best Practical Means for Cutting Off the Defective Germ-Plasm in the Human Population”.

The Abenaki Culture

There are a dozen variations of the “Abenaki” name, such as Abenaquiois, Abakivis, Quabenakionek, Wabenakies, as well as others. The Abenaki were described in the Jesuit Relations as not being cannibals, but docile, ingenious, temperate in their use of liquor and were not profane.

All of the Abenaki tribes had lived a lifestyle similar to the Algonquian-speaking people of southern New England. They cultivated crops for food and had villages that were located on or near fertile river flood plans. Other less major, but yet still important, was the other parts of their diet, which included game and fish from hunting and fishing, as well as from wild plants.

These peoples lived in scattered bands of extended families for most of the year. Each man had different hunting territories that had been inherited through their father. Unlike the Iroquois, the Abenaki were partilinear. The bands would come together during the spring and summer at temporary villages that sat near the rivers, or somewhere along the seacoast so that they could plant and fish. These villages would have, at times, been fortified, depending on the alliances and enemies with the other tribes or Europeans near their villages. The Abenaki villages were quite small when compared to those of the Iroquois, the average number of peoples were about one hundred.

Most Abenaki crafted dome-shaped, bark-covered wigwams for their housing, even though there had been a few that had preferred oval-shaped long houses. During the

Abenaki Wigwam w birch covering

The Abenaki Wigwam (made from birch)


winter, the Abenaki lived in small groups that were further inland. Their homes at this time were bark-covered wigwams that were shaped in a way similar to teepees of the Great Plains Indians. They would line their conical wigwams with bear and deer skins to keep them warm. People would also build long houses that were similar to those of the Iroquois.

The Abenaki hold on to their traditions and ways of life, even today, in several ways. The Sokoki do so in their current constitution for their government. They have a chief, council of elders, and methods and means for election to council and chieftanship, as well as requirements for citizenship in their tribe. There are also many different traditions that they still uphold, such as different dances that they perform and what the dances mean to them. During several of these dances there’s no photography permitted out of respect to their culture. For several, there are instructions such as “All stand while it is sung,” or “All stand to show respect”.

Hairstyles and Marriage Traditions

Traditionally, the Abenaki men would keep their hair long and loose. When a man would find a girlfriend he would keep his hair tied, then when he married he would attach his hair to his scalp with a piece of leather and shave it all off, except for his ponytail.

A modernized spiritual version has a man with his girlfriend tying his hair and braiding it, then when he marries, he keeps all his hair in a braid, shaving only the sides and the back of his head. The spiritual meaning behind this cut is most importantly to indicate betrothal or fidelity as a married Abenaki man. It is, in much the same way as the Christian marriage tradition where there is an optional exchange and blessing of wedding rings. These rings are an outward and visible sign of unity between a couple.

Changes in ones hair style were symbolic of the complex courtship process. A man would give a woman a box made out of fine wood, which was decorated with virtues of the woman, and the woman would give a similar box to her man. Everyone in the tribe must agree to the couple’s marriage. They erect a pole that is planted in the earth, if any disagree, they would strike the pole. The disagreement must be resolved or the marriage does not happen.

Gender, Food, Division of Labor, and Other Cultural Traits

The Abenaki were a farming society, that would supplement agriculture with hunting and gathering. Generally, men were hunters and women tended to fields and grew crops. In their fields, the women would plant crops in groups of “sisters”. The three sisters were grown together. The stalks of corn would support the beans and the squash or pumpkins provided ground cover and reduced weeds. Men would hunt bears, deer, fish and birds.

Abenaki Farming Three Sisters

Example of the Abenaki way of farming with the “Three Sisters”


They were also a patrilineal society, which was common among the New England tribes. They did, however, differ from the six Iroquois tribes that were to the west in New York and from many of the other North American Indian tribes who had matrilineal societies. In those systems, women controlled property and hereditary leadership would be passed down through a woman’s line. Children that were born to a married couple had belonged to the mother’s clan. A wife and mother’s eldest brother was an important mentor, especially for boys, and their biological father would have a lesser role in their life than he did.

Group decision making was done by a consensus method. The idea is that every group, family, band, tribe, etc, must have an equal say. Each group would elect spokespersons and each smaller group would send decisions of the group to an impartial facilitator. If there was a disagreement, the facilitator would tell the group to discuss the issue again. In addition to debates, there was a goal of total understanding for all members, if there hadn’t been a total understanding, the debate would stop until there was.

When tribal members debate issues, they consider the Three Truths, of which are peace, righteousness, and power. The questions asked with each of these is: is this preserved? Is it moral? And Does it preserve the integrity of the group? These truths help to guide all group deliberations with the goal being to reach a consensus. If there is no consensus for change, they agree to keep the status quo.


For Abenaki entertainment, as well as a teaching method, the Abenaki participate in storytelling. This is a major part of their culture. The people view stories as having a life of their own. They also believe that one should be aware of how they are used. The stories had been used as a means of teaching children how to behave. The children were then not mistreated and instead of punishing them they were told a story. For instance, the story of Azban the raccoon. This story is about a proud raccoon that challenges a waterfall to a shouting contest. When the waterfall does not respond, Azban dives into it to try to outshout it. He is then swept away cause of his pride. The story of Azban would be used to teach a child about the pitfalls of pride.

Population and Epidemics Faced by the Abenaki

Before the Abenaki, except for the Pennacook and the Mi’kmaq, the population may have been as many as 40,000. About 20,000 of this population would have been considered the eastern Abenaki. Another 10,000 would have been western Abenaki, and at least another 10,000 would have been the maritime Abenaki.

Early contact with European fishermen had resulted in two major epidemics that the Abenaki peoples had to face. The first epidemic was of an unknown sickness that would occur, at times, between 1564 and 1570. The second epidemic was that of typhus in 1586. There were multiple epidemics that came upon the Abenaki in the decade prior to the English settlement of Massachusetts in 1620. Then three separate sicknesses had swept across New England and the Canadian Maritimes. Maine had been hit very hard during 1617 with a fatality rate of 75%. The population of the Eastern Abenaki would fall to about 5,000. The western Abenaki were more isolated, so they would have been more isolated from the rest of the Abenaki, and therefore, had fewer fatalities. They would lose about half of their population of 10,000.

Within these epidemics, there were other new diseases to strike the Abenaki as well. In 1631, 1633 and 1639 the smallpox broke out among the Abenaki. Then, seven years later, an unknown epidemic also struck, followed by influenza in the year after that. In 1649, smallpox struck again and ten years later, diphtheria broke out. In 1670, smallpox came back yet again, followed by influenza five years later. During 1677, 1679 and 1687 smallpox returned, along with the measles in 1691, 1729, 1733, 1755 and in 1758. A major population decline had occurred at this time, but in 1676 the Abenaki took in thousands of refugees from many of the southern New England tribes that had been displaced by the settlers of King Philip’s War. It’s due to this that the descendants of nearly every southern New England Algonquian tribe can be found among the Abenaki peoples. A century later, fewer than 1,000 Abenaki remained as such after the American Revolution.

The United States Census from 1990 shows that only 1,549 people identified themselves as Abenaki. The following year 2,544 would claim Abenaki, and 6,012 claimed heritage. In 1991, the Canadian Abenaki had only numbered 945 and in 2006, the number reached 2,164.

The Massachusett Indians

Another tribe was the Massachusett Indians. These peoples were historically found in the areas surrounding the Massachusetts Bay area and other parts of northeast southern Massachusetts, in what is today the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, including the present-day Greater Boston area. The tribal members used the Massachusett language, which was part of the Algonquian language family. The United States’ state of Massachusetts is named after the tribe as well.

The Massachusett name stands for “people of the great hills,” which refers to the Blue Hills that lie south of Boston Harbor. As one of the first groups of indigenous American peoples to encounter the English colonists, the Massachusett had experienced a rapid decline in their population in the 17th and 18th centuries, due to infectious diseases. These peoples descendants continue to live in the Greater Boston area, but they are not a federally recognized tribe.

The Massachusett Peoples in Pre-History

The Massachusetts are most likely the descendants of the prehistoric Paleo-Indians, who had lived in eastern North America at the end of the last glaciation, some 30,000-15,000 years before ago. There is archaeological evidence, consisting of spear points and midden mounds, that have been uncovered in Boston, which are an indication of the Massachusett habitation of the area 6,500 and 8,000 years ago. Fishing structures, such as Boylston Street Fishweir, which dates back to 5,200 years ago, have been found since the late 20th century, in what is today Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. A recreation of the fish weir has been erected every year on the Boston Common in May.

Boylston Street Fishweir example

Example of the Boylston Street Fishweir


The early Massachusett had lived by a seasonal migration. They would move between their inland hunting grounds and their winter homes in the fall and winter. They’d do this so that they could mine their quarries for materials that they could use for weapons and tool making, whaling, coastal fishing and foraging, which for the most part were used in the late spring and summer periods.

The Historical Period

The English had given the Massachusett their name, but the French called them Almouchiquois, or Armouchiquois. The two names may be etymologically connected.

Along with other Algonquian tribal groups, the Massachusett were almost totally destroyed by native and European-carried plague between 1614 and 1619. An estimated ninety percent of their whole coastal populations had died during this time, possible due to leptospirosis that had been introduced to them by rats from European ships that had contaminated the local water. The surviving, but weakened population was further decimated by warfare with the opportunistic Tarrantine tribe of Maine, which had killed many of the Massachusett, including their local leader Nanepashemet. After colonization of the area by the English, the smallpox epidemic of 1633 had further reduced the rapidly dwindling survivors. The passing away of several Massachusett warriors and two of their prominent leaders, Pecksuit and Wittawamut, during an ambush at Wessegusset by Captain Miles Standish of the Plymouth Colony in 1623, had caused the native Americans to avoid, but not end further European contact.

There are colonial records that indicate, early in the 17th century, the Massachusett had fished the shores, whaled at sea, farmed the lands and mined numerous quarries in the Blue Hills for slate and other valuable minerals. Depending on the season, the Massachusett would migrate from their longhouses on the coast to their wigwam settlements that were further inland. The tribes were introduced to John Eliot, the man who converted some of them to Christianity, and who created a written alphabet for them. During 1663, with the help of the native Americans, Eliot also published the first Bible in North America, written entirely in the native Massachusett language. The tribe would be confined to English laws of settlement, which were called praying villages, after Eliot had requested their establishment from the general court.

In 1675, a tribal member named John Sassamon, would be the first Native American to attend Harvard University, which was retained by Pokanoket sachem, King Phillip to record his will. Sassamon would take advantage of Philip’s illiteracy to name himself heir to Philip’s lands. After the treachery was discovered, Sassamon had died under mysterious circumstances. The subsequent murder trial was a catalyst during King Philip’s War, a conflict, in which the Massachusett entered an uneasy alliance with the colonists against King Philip.

Crispus Attucks was the first casualty during the Boston Massacre, which was at the start of the American Revolutionary War. Attucks was of Massachusett descent through his mother, and was also African through his father.

Massachusett After 1869

In 1869, the Massachusett would pass the Indian Enfranchisement Act. This would grant the Massachusett citizenship in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. They would have the right to vote, but their status was “terminated” as a sovereign nation. This would not conform with the Constitution, as only the federal government could make such a decision, in relation to tribal governments.

The praying communities mentioned earlier were established at Canton, originally Ponkapoag, Natick and Brockton. These communities had continued to have people who would identify themselves as Massachusett. A tombstone of a noted Massachusett member of the Natick Ponkapoag community stated that she was the last of her tribe, upon her death in 1852 at the age of 101.

21st Century Massachusett

The descendants of the praying Indians from Natick have gone on to organize as the Praying Indian Tribes of Natick and Ponkapoag. Currently, they are under the leadership of Rosita Andrews of the Caring Hands from Stoughton, Massachusetts. She would receive her title of chief from her mother. The Praying Indian members had lived within a radius of twenty miles around Stoughton, Massachusetts. According to the Caring Hands, in 2011 there had been about fifty members of the Natick Praying Indians left. On the 11th of August, 2012, members of the tribe had celebrated, in a public service in Eliot Church, South Natick, the site of the original church of the Praying Indian town of Natick, for the first time in almost three hundred years.

Descendants of the Neponsett band of Indigenous Massachusett who had settled at Ponkapoag are still organized as the Massachusett at Ponkapoag Tribe. Either of these tribes identify themselves as Praying Indian Tribes of Natick and Ponkapoag. Their leader has not even qualified as a descendant of the indigenous Massachusett at Ponkapoag. They still do not have an affiliation with the Massachusett at Ponkapoag Tribe.

The Pequot Tribe

In the United States’ Connecticut are the Native American people called the Pequot. The modern Pequot and their descendants are members of the federally recognized Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. There are four other state-recognized groups in Connecticut, and the Brothertown Indians of Wisconsin. They too would have traditionally spoken the Pequot language, a dialect of the Mohegan-Pequot language. This language had later become extinct in the early 20th century, though there have been revival efforts underway since then.

The Pequot and Mohegan tribes were formerly a single group. The Mohegan had split off from the Pequot in the 17th century, as the Pequot came under the control of much of today’s Connecticut. Tensions began to simmer with the New England colonies, which led to the Pequot War of 1634-1638. The war would dramatically reduce the population and put Pequot influence on the rest of the Mohegan tribe. Many of its members were killed, enslaved or dispersed, with only small numbers remaining in Connecticut. They would receive two reservations, Mashantucket in 1666 and the Pawcatuck River in 1683. Others would go on to live in other areas and among other tribes. In the 18th century, some Christian Pequot also joined members of several other peoples to form the Brothertown Indians. They too would relocate later in the 19th century and later times to what is now Wisconsin.

The Mashantucket tribe would form the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe in 1975, which would receive federal recognition in 1983 as part of a settlement of a land claim. Three years later, they would establish Foxwoods Resort Casino, which, historically, is one of the United States’ most successful Indian casinos. The Pawcatuck River Pequot would form the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, and later was recognized by Connecticut, but is still not federally recognized.

Foxwoods Resort Casino

Foxwoods Resort Casino


Additionally, the Pequot descendants have been enrolled in the federally recognized Mohegan Tribe, as well as the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation and the Golden Hill Paugussett Indian Nation of Connecticut and the Brothertown Indians of Wisconsin, which have also had a degree of state recognition.

Pequot History

Pequot is an Algonquian word, the meaning is still disputed among language specialists. A considerable scholarship pertaining to the Pequot claims name came from Pequttoog, meaning “the destroyers” or “the men of the swamp”. This relies on speculations of the early 20th century authorities on the Algonquian languages. Frank Speck has no doubts of this though. He was a leading early 20th century specialist of the Pequot-Mohegan. He also believed that another term meaning “the shallowness of a body of water” may have also been used, which does seem plausible, as the Pequot’s territory is along the coast of the Long Island Sound.

Historians have debated whether the Pequot had migrated in about 1500 from the upper Hudson River Valley toward what is now central and eastern Connecticut. The theory of the Pequot migration to the Connecticut River Valley can be traced to Reverend William Hubbard. He had claimed in 1677 that the Pequot invaded the region some time before the establishment of the Plymouth Colony, rather than originating in the region. During the aftermath of King Philip’s War, Hubbard goes into detail in his “Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England” about the ferocity of which some of the New England Native peoples responded to the English. Hubbard describes the Pequot as “foreigners” to the region, not invaders from another shore, but “from the interior of the continent,” who “by force seized upon one of the goodliest places near the sea, and became a Terror to all their Neighbors”.

Archaeological, linguistic and documentary evidence that is now available, demonstrates that the Pequot were not invaders to the Connecticut River Valley but they were indigenous to the area for thousands of years. By the time Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies were founded, the Pequot had already attained a position of political, military and economic dominance  in what is now central and eastern Connecticut. The coastal area between the Niantic tribe of the Niantic River, which is presently the Connecticut and Wecapaug Rivers. The Narragansett are now in what is western Rhode Island. The Pequot numbered some 16,000 persons in their most densely inhabited portions of southern New England, but in 1616 until 1619, smallpox killed many of the inhabitants of the eastern coast and present-day New England. The illness failed to reach the Pequot, Niantic and Narragansett tribes though. During 1633, the Dutch had established their trading post called the House of Good Hope, which is today Hartford, Connecticut. They would seize and execute principal Pequot sachem Tatobem, which was a violation of an agreement. After the Pequot paid the Dutch a large ransom, they would return Tatobem’s body, his successor was Sassacus.

In that same year an epidemic had devastated all regions of the Native population. Historians estimate that the Pequot suffered a loss of about 80% of their population alone. Upon the outbreak of the Pequot War, the survivors of the epidemic numbered about 3,000.

The Pequot War

Three years after suffering from the epidemic, long standing tensions between the Puritan English of Connecticut, the Massachusetts Bay colonies and Pequot had escalated into open warfare. There was a lot of confusion on both sides when the tribe killed an Englishman that they thought wasDutch, which soon brought war upon the Pequot. The Mohegan and Narragansett would side with the English and about 1500 Pequot were killed in battle or were hunted down. Others were captured and distributed as slaves or household servants. A few did escape though, but were absorbed into the Mohawk or Niantic of Long Island. Eventually, some of the Pequot peoples returned to their traditional lands, where there were family groups of “friendly”.

The Pequots who had stayed and were enslaved were mostly awarded to allied tribes, but many of them were also sold as slaves to Bermuda. The Mohegan in particular, treated their Pequot captives so severely that the colonial officials of the Connecticut colony eventually removed them. Connecticut would establish two reservations for the Pequot in 1683. The Eastern Pequot Reservation was founded at North Stonington, Connecticut and the western Pequot, or Mashantucket Pequot Reservation was in Ledyard. While the land bases of the two tribes have been greatly reduced, the two groups continue to hold on to their land and also maintained their community.

Modern History

By the time of the 1910 census, the Pequot population was enumerated to as low as sixty-six persons. In terms of population, the Pequot reached their nadir several decades later. Their numbers grew appreciably, especially the Mashantucket Pequot, during the 1970s and 1980s. Their tribal chairman, Richard A. Hayward, encouraged them to return to their tribal homeland and worked towards having them federally recognized.

In 1976, with the assistance of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the Indian Rights Association, the Pequot filed a suit against their neighboring landowners so they could recover land that had been illegally sold in 1856 by the State of Connecticut. After seven years, the Pequot and the landowners reached a settlement. The former landowners had agreed that the 1856 sale was illegal and joined with the Pequot in seeking out support for a resolution with Connecticut’s state government.

The Connecticut Legislature would respond to them by unanimously passing legislation to petition the federal government to grant the Mashantucket Pequot federal recognition. The “Mashantucket Pequot Indian Land Claims Settlement Act” was enacted by the United States Congress and then signed by President Ronald Reagan on the 18th of October 1983. The settlement granted the Mashantucket Pequot federal recognition and also enabled them to repurchase their land that was covered in the Settlement Act and place it in a trust with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for reservation use.

The Mashantucket Pequot Nation

This Nation has a total land base of 1250 acres. They have engaged in several entrepreneurial enterprises, so as to become economically viable. These enterprises included selling of firewood, harvesting maple syrup and growing garden vegetables. They have raised swine and opened a hydroponic greenhouse, as well as established a sand and gravel business.

In 1986, the Mashantucket-Pequot Nation opened a bingo operation, followed by 192 establishments of the first phase of Foxwoods Resort Casinos. Revenues from the casino have enabled the development and construction of a cultural museum as well. The ceremonial groundbreaking for the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center would take place on the 20th of October 1993, which date marked the tenth anniversary of the tribes’ federal recognition as well.

A new facility would open on the 11th of August 1998 in what is now on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation. Many members of the nation do continue to live in this area, and it is one of the oldest, continuously occupied Indian reservation in North America.

The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation was federally recognized in 2002. Since the 1930s both of these tribes had serious tensions over racial issues between them. Some people would claim that darker-skinned descendants should not be considered fully Pequot. The two groups of the Eastern Pequot filed petitions for federal recognition with the BIA. The tribes would agree to unite and achieve recognition with the BIA. The state immediately challenged their decision and in 2005 the Department of the Interior revoked their recognition for the EPTN. At this same time, it also revoked recognition for the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation as well. They had gained their sovereignty only in 2004.

The Pequot Language

Historically, the Pequot spoke a dialect of the Mohegan-Pequot language, which is an Eastern Algonquian language. After the Treaty of Hartford had concluded the Pequot War in 1637, the colonists made speaking this language a capital offense and within a generation or so it became largely extinct. The Pequot from both the Eastern and Mashantucket would speak English as their primary language.

During the 21st century, the Mashantucket Pequot have been undertaking great efforts to revive the language through careful analysis of historical documents that contain the Pequot words and comparison with the extant closely related languages . Thus far, they have reclaimed over 1,000 words, though that is a small fraction of what would be necessary for a functional language.

The Mashantucket have started to offer language classes with the help of the Mashpee Wampanoag. The latter has recently initiated the Wopanaak Language Reclamation Project. In southern New England Native communities who are participants in the Wopanaak Language Reclamation Project are the Mashpee Wampanoag, Aquinnah wampanoag, Herring Pond Wampanoag and most recently, the Mashantucket Pequot.

The Iroquois

The Iroquois, also known as the Haudenosaunee, are a historically powerful northeast Native American confederacy. They were known during colonial American years to the French as the “Iroquois League”, and later were known as the “Iroquois Confederacy”. To the English they were part of the “Five Nations”, before 1722. In later years, the English would refer to them as the “Six Nations” and compromised of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora peoples.

Iroquois Indians have absorbed many from other native American tribes into their culture as a result of warfare, adoption of  captives and by offering shelter to those that were displaced. The historic Erie, Susquehannock, Wyandot (or Huron), and St. Lawrence Iroquoians are all independent peoples who spoke the Iroquoian languages. In a larger sense of linguistic families, they often considered Iroquoian peoples due to their similar languages and cultures. All Iroquois peoples culturally and linguistically descended from the Proto-Iroquoian people and language. However, traditionally they were enemies of the nations in the Iroquois League. As of 2010, more than 45,000 people were enrolled in the Six Nations people that live in Canada. There were about 80,000 in the United States in the same year.

Iroquois Names

The most common of names for the Iroquois Confederacy is simply the Iroquois, which is somewhat obscure in its’ origin. The first time this name appears in writing is in an account of Samuel de Champlain, where he wrote of his journey to Tadoussac in 1603. Instead of occurring as the Iroquois, the name appears as “Irocois”. There are other spellings that occur in some of our earliest sources and include: erocoise, hiroquois, hyroquoise, irecoles, iriquois, iroquaes, irroquois, yroquois.

With the French language spoken in 1603, the Iroquois name would have been pronounced as irokwe. Through the years, there have been several theories competing with one another about the ultimate origin of the Iroquois name. The earliest such proposal is by the Jesuit priest Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, who wrote in 1744:

“The name Iroquois is purely French, and is formed from the term Hiro or Hero, which means I have said—with which these Indians close all their addresses, as the Latins did of old with their dix—and of Koue, which is a cry sometimes of sadness, when it is prolonged, and sometimes of joy, when it is pronounced shorter.”

In 1883, Horatio Hale wrote that the Charlevoix etymology was dubious, and “no other nation or tribe of which we have knowledge has ever borne a name composed in this whimsical fashion”. He goes on to instead suggest that the term came from the Huron language, and was cognate with Mohawk ierokwa, meaning “they who smoke”, or Cayuga iakwai, meaning “a bear”. J.N.B. Hewitt responded to Hale’s etymology in 1888 by expressing doubt that neither of these words even existed in the respective languages. Hewitt’s preferred etymology at the time was from Montagnais irin “true, real” and ako, meaning “snake”, plus the French -ois suffix, though he later revised this theory to state that the source was of Algonquian iriakhoiw. However, none of these gained widespread acceptance and by 1978, Ives Goddard would write:

“No such form is attested in any Indian language as a name for any Iroquoian group, and the ultimate origin and meaning of the name are unknown.”

The more modern etymology of the Iroquois name is that which is advocated by Gordon M. Day in 1968. He elaborates upon an earlier etymology given by Charles Arnaud in 1880, which had claimed that the word came from Montagnais irnokue, which meant “terrible man”. Day proposed a hypothetical Montagnais phrase, irno kwedac, meaning “a man, an Iroquois”, as the origin of the term. For the first part of the name Iroquois, Day cites cognates from other attested Montagnais dialects. For the second element kwedac, he suggests that a relation to kouetakiou—name that is used by the neighboring Algonquian tribes and refers to the Iroquois, Hurons, and Laurentians.

In more recent years, Peter Bakker has proposed a Basque origin for the name. There were Basque fishermen whalers that are known to have frequented the waters of the Northeast Iroquois in the 1500s. So much so though, that the Basque-based pidgin developed for communication with the Algonquian tribes of the region. He also claims,. that it is unlikely that “-quois” derives from a root specifically used to refer to the Iroquois. Citing as evidence that several other Indian tribes of the region were known to the French by the names “Armouchiquois”, “Charloquois”, “Excomminquois” and “Souriquois”.

Another term, Haudenosaunee, is the designation more commonly used by the Iroquois to refer to themselves. It is also, at times, preferred by scholars of the Native American history, who considered the name “Iroquois” to be derogatory in origin. This name derives from two phonetically—similar but etymologically distinct with its’ words in the Seneca language. Hodinohso-ni-h, meaning “those of the extended house”, and the book called Hotinnonsionni.

An alternate designation, Ganonsyoni, which is, at times, encountered as well. The term comes from the Mohawk kanohsyo ni, meaning “the extended house”, or from the more transparently, Iroquois confederacy is also often referred to simply as the Iroquois Confederacy and is also often referred to simply, as the Six Nations.

The Iroquoian Confederacy

The history of the Iroquois Confederacy goes back to its formation by the Peacemaker in 1412, which brought together five distinct nations in the southern Great Lakes area into “The Great League of Peace”. Each of the nations within the Iroquoian family had a distinct language, their own territories and functions in the League. Iroquoian influence would extend into present-day Canada and then westward along the Great Lakes and down both sides of the Allegheny mountains into, what is today, Virginia, Kentucky and the Ohio Valley.

The League is governed by the Grand Council, an assembly of fifty chiefs or sachems, each represent one of the clans, of one of the nations. The original Iroquois League, as the French had known them, or the Five Nations, as the British knew them, occupied large areas of today’s New York state and up the St. Lawrence River. They had occupied on into the west of the Hudson River and on into the south to Northwestern Pennsylvania. The League was composed of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and the Seneca nations. Sometime around 1722, the Tuscarora tribe joined the League when they migrated from the Carolinas after they had been displaced by the Anglo-European settlements. They were also an Iroquoian-speaking people, and were accepted into what became the Six Nations.

Other Iroquoian-speaking peoples, such as the Erie, Susquehannock, Huron (Wendat) and Wyandot, had lived at various times along the St. Lawrence River and around the Great Lakes. In the American Southeast, the Cherokee were of the Iroquoian-language, and migrated into the area centuries before European contact. None of these were part of the Haudenosaunee. Those that were on the borders of their territory, in the Great Lakes region, had competed and fought with the Haudenosaunee.

The Iroquois and most Iroquoian peoples have a matrilineal kinship system, with descent and inheritance passing through their maternal lines. Children were considered to be born into their mother’s clan and would take their social status from her family. Clan mothers, the elder women of each clan, are highly respected. Women elders nominate their chief for life from the clan and own the symbols of her office.

When the Europeans had first arrived in North America, the Haudenosaunee were based in what’s now the northeastern United States, primarily in what is today central New York and west of the Hudson River. They also occupy the Finger Lakes region and upstate New York along the St. Lawrence River area, downstream from today’s Montreal, Canada.

The French, Dutch and British colonists in both Canada and the Thirteen Colonies recognized the need to gain favor with the Iroquois peoples who had occupied a significant portion of the lands west of the colonial settlements. In addition, the colonists would establish lucrative fur trading with the Iroquois, which was favorable to both sides. These colonists also sought to establish positive relations to secure their borders.

For close to two hundred years, the Iroquois were a powerful factor in the North American colonial policy-making decisions. Alignment with the Iroquois offered political and strategic advantages to the colonies, but the Iroquois preserved a considerable amount of independence. Some of the people settled in mission villages along the St. Lawrence River, becoming more closely tied to the French. They did participate in French raids on the Dutch and later on English settlements, where some Mohawk and other Iroquois settled. In general though, they would resist attacking their own peoples.

The Iroquois also remained politically unique, undivided, and as a large Native American polity until the American Revolution. The League would then keep their treaty promises to the British crown, but when the British were defeated, they ceded Iroquois territory without consultation. Many had to abandon their lands in the Mohawk Valley and elsewhere and then relocate into the northern lands that were retained by the British after the war.

The Iroquois League has also been known as the “Iroquois Confederacy.” Modern scholars distinguish between the League and the Confederacy, according to this interpretation of scholars, the Iroquois League refers to the ceremonial and cultural institution embodied in the Grand Council. The Iroquois Confederacy is a decentralized political and diplomatic entity that emerged in response to European colonization. According to this theory, “The League” still exists today, but the Confederacy dissolved after the defeat of the British and allied the Iroquois nations in the American Revolutionary War. Today’s Iroquois/Six Nations peoples don’t make any distinction between the two and use both terms interchangeably.

After the defeat of the British and their Iroquois allies in the American Revolutionary War, Britain ceded most of the Iroquois territory, without bringing their allies to the negotiating table. Many of the Iroquois migrated to Canada when they were forced out of New York due to the hostility with their old British allies. Those that did stay, remained in New York and were required to live, for the most part on reservations. In 1784, a total of 6,000 Iroquois had to confront 240,000 New Yorkers and land-hungry New Englanders that were poised to migrate to the west.

“Oneidas alone, who were only 600 strong, owned six million acres, or about 2.4 million hectares, Iroquoia was a land rush waiting to happen”.

In addition to major cessions of Iroquois land, the Oneida and others who had gained reservations in New York, faced increasing pressures for their lands. By the time of the War of 1812, they had lost control of a considerable amount of their property.

Iroquois History

Our knowledge of Iroquois history stems from Haudenosaunee oral tradition, archaeological evidence, accounts from Jesuit missionaries, and subsequent European historians. One historian, Scott Stevens, credits early modern European values for written histories of the Iroquois over the oral tradition and cultures as contributing to prejudiced, racialized elements within writings about them that have continued on into the 19th century. The historiography of the Iroquois, is therefore a topic of much debate, especially regarding the American colonial period.

Jesuit accounts portrayed them as savages because of comparisons to the French culture. The Jesuits perceived the Iroquois as people who lacked government, law, letters and religion. In the 18th century, the English historiography focuses on diplomatic relations with the Iroquois. Visualizations, such as John Vereist’s Four Mohawk Kings and publications such as the Anglo-Iroquoian treaty proceedings printed by Benjamin Franklin have their focus on these diplomatic relations. One historical narrative persistent in the 19th and 20th centuries casts the Iroquois as “an expansive military and political power…[who] subjugated their enemies by violent force and for almost two centuries acted as the fulcrum in the balance of power in colonial North America.” The historian, Scott Stevens noted that the Iroquois also began to influence writing of their history in epics on the Peacemaker. Notable women historians among the Iroquois emerged in the following decades, including Laura “Minnie” Kellog and Alice Lee Jemison.

Formation of the League

The Iroquois League was established before European contact, with the banding together of five of the many Iroquoian tribes who had originated ‘to the south’. Some reliable sources link origins of the Iroquois Confederacy to 1142 and an agricultural shift when corn was adopted as a stable crop. Many archaeologists believe that the League was formed in about 1450. There are still arguments that have been made for an earlier date.

One of these theories say that the League had formed shortly after the solar eclipse on the 31st of Auguest 1142. This was an event that was thought to be expressed in the tribes oral tradition about the League’s origins. Anthropologist, Dean Snow, argues that there is archaeological evidence that doesn’t support a date any earlier than 1450 and that recent claims for a much earlier date “may be for contemporary political purposes”. In contrast, other scholars note when anthropological studies were made, only male informants were consulted, even though the Iroquois peoples had distinct oral traditions that were held by males and females, thus excluding half of the historical story which was told by the women. For this reason, the origin tales tend to emphasize Deganawidah and Hiawatha, while the role of Jigonsaseh largely remains unknown because this part of the oral history was held by women.

According to oral traditions, the League was formed through efforts of two men and one woman. These were Dekanawida, sometimes known as the Great Peacemaker, Hiawatha, and Jigonhsasee, known as the Mother of Nations. Their home acted as a sort of United Nations and they’d bring the Peacemaker’s message, known as the Great Law of Peace, to the squabbling Iroquoian nations who had been fighting, raiding and feuding with one another and other tribes. Both were Algonquians and Iroquoian people. There had originally only been five nations that joined themselves into the League, giving rise to many historic references of Five Nations of the Iroquois, or often, just “The Five Nations”. In addition to the Five Nations, another, the southern Tuscarora, joined to make the Six Nations in the 17th century, which today include the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and the Seneca.

According to legend, an evil Onondaga chieftain by the name of Tadodaho was the last that converted to ways of peace by the Great Peacemaker and Hiawatha. He was offered a position as the titular chair of the League’s Council, representing the unity of all nations of the league. It is said, that this occurred at Onondaga Lake, which is near present-day Syracuse, New York. The title Tadodaho is still used for the League’s Chair, and sits the 50th chief with the Onondaga on its’ council.

With the formation of the League, the impact of internal conflicts was minimized, the council of fifty had, thereafter, ruled on any disputes. This displaced the raiding traditions and most of the impulsive actions by the hotheaded warriors onto the surrounding peoples. It also allowed the Iroquois to increase their numbers while they pushed down any rival nations’ numbers. The political cohesion of the Iroquois allowed them to quickly become one of the strongest forces in the 17th and 18th century northeastern North America area. Occasionally though, they were used as a representation of all five tribes, until about 1678 when negotiations between the governments of Pennsylvania and New York had seemed to awake the power. From then on, editors of American Heritage write that the Iroquois became very good at playing the French off against the British, as the individual tribes had played the Swedes, Dutch and English. Editors of the American Heritage Magazine suggest that the Iroquois spokesmen were politically sophisticated people, and were as manipulative as many of today’s politicians are.

As was noted above, there were peoples who had spoken the Iroquois language in the same linguistic family, but were not part of the League. It’s known that these peoples were culturally similar, including reputations of being as fierce, and territorial, yet before the Beaver Wars, were known to co-exist in the societies, which more often than not, were at peace and conducting trade with the Iroquois when the French and Dutch first explored, conducted maritime fur trading and first settled North America.

The explorer, Robert La Salle, in the 17th century identified the Mosopelea as among the Ohio Valley peoples that had been defeated by the Iroquois in the early 1670s. The Erie peoples, among others in the upper Allegheny Valley, were known to have fallen to the Iroquois earlier, during the Beaver Wars. By 1676 the Susquehannock were known to be broken as a power between the three years of epidemic disease, war with the Iroquois and frontier battles as the settlers took advantage of the weakened tribe.

According to one theory of the early Iroquois’ history, after they became united in the League, the Iroquois invaded the Ohio River Valley, in the territories that would later become the eastern Ohio Country, down as far as today’s Kentucky, to seek additional hunting grounds. They would displace about 1200 Siouan-speaking peoples that had occupied the Ohio River Valley. Some of these tribes consisted of the Quapaw (Arkansea), the Ofo (Mosopelea), Tutelo, and other closely related tribes that were out of the region. These tribes would end up migrating to the regions around the Mississippi River and Piedmont regions of the east coast.

Iroquois Expansion

In historian Diana Muir’s “Reflections in Bullough’s Pond”, she argues that the pre-contact Iroquois were an imperialist, expansionist culture, whose cultivation of corn, beans, and squash enabled them to support a large population. They would make war primarily with neighboring Algonquian peoples. Muir uses archaeological data to argue that the Iroquois expansion into the Algonquian lands was checked by the Algonquian adoption of agriculture. This enabled them to support their own large populations enough to have sufficient warriors to defend against the threat of the Iroquois conquest. The People of the Confederacy dispute whether any of this historical interpretation relates to the League of the Great Peace, which they contend is a foundation of their heritage.

The Iroquois may be the Kwedech that are described in oral legends of the Mi’kmaq nation of Eastern Canada. These legends tell that the Mi’kmaq, in the late pre-contact period had gradually driven their enemies, the Kwedech, westward across New Brunswick, and then finally out of the lower St. Lawrence River region. The Mi’kmaq named the last-conquered land Gespedeg, or “last land”, from which the French derived as Gaspe. “Kwedech” is generally considered to have been Iroquois, specifically the Mohawk. Their expulsion from Gaspe by the Mi’kmaq has been estimated as having occurred in about 1535-1600.

In about 1535, Jaques Cartier reported that there were Iroquoian-speaking groups on the Gaspe Peninsula, and along the St. Lawrence River. Archaeologists and anthropologists have defined the St. Lawrence Iroquoians as a distinct and separate group, and possibly several discrete groups, that lived in villages of the Hochelaga and others that were nearby. They lived near today’s Montreal, which had been visited by Cartier. By 1608, when Samuel de Champlain visited the area, this part of the St. Lawrence River valley had no settlements, but was controlled by the Mohawk as a hunting ground. On the Gaspe Peninsula, Champlain encountered the Algonquian-speaking groups, though the precise identity of any of these groups is still debated.

The Iroquois became well known in the southern colonies in the 17th century by this time. After the first English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, numerous 17th century accounts describe powerful people known to the Powhatan Confederacy as Massawomeck and to the French as the Antouhonoron. They were said to have come from the north, beyond the Susquehannock Territory. Historians have often identified the Massawomeck/Antouhonoron as the Haudenosaunee. Other Iroquoian-language tribes of the time included the Erie, whom were destroyed by the Iroquois in 1654 over a competiton for the fur trade.

From 1665 and 1670, the Iroquois established seven villages on the north shores of Lake Ontario in present day Ontario. These peoples were collectively known as the “Iroquois du Nord”. The villages were all abandoned by 1701.

Over the years of 1670 and 1710, the Five Nations achieved political dominance over much of Virginia, west of the fall line and extending to the Ohio River Valley in present day West Virginia and Kentucky. As a result of the Beaver Wars, they pushed the Siouan speaking tribes out of the area and reserved the territory as a hunting ground by the right of Conquest. They had finally sold the British colonists their remaining claims to the lands south of the Ohio River in 1768 with the Treaty of Fort Stanwix.

The Beaver Wars

In 1609, the League engaged in a decade-long series of wars, so-called the Beaver Wars. These wars were fought against the French and their Huron allies, as well as neighboring tribes, including the Petun, Erie and Susquehannock. The wars were over the control of access to the game in the area for lucrative fur trading. Pressure was put on the Algonquian peoples of the Atlantic Coast (the Lenape and Delaware) and the Anishinaabe peoples of the boreal Canadian Shield region. The Iroquois had also fought the English colonies as well, but only infrequently. During the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois were said to have defeated and assimilated the Huron, that being in 1649, the Petun in 1650, the Neutral Nation in 1651, the Erie Tribe in 1657 and the Susquehannock in 1680. The traditional view is that the wars were a way of controlling the lucrative fur trade in order to access European goods, of which they had become dependent on.

Recent scholarship has elaborated on this view, arguing that the Wars were an escalation of the “Mourning Wars”. These were an integral part of the early Iroquoian culture. This view suggests that they had launched a series of large-scale attacks against their neighboring tribes so that they could avenge or replace the massive amount of deaths that had resulted from the battles or smallpox epidemics.

In 1628, the Mohawk had defeated the Mahican to gain a monopoly in the fur trade with the Dutch at Fort Orange, present day New Netherland. The Mohawk wouldn’t allow the northern native peoples to trade with the Dutch. In 1645, a tentative peace had been made between the Iroquois, Huron, Algonquin, and the French.

A year later, Jesuit missionaries at Sainte-Marie that were amongst the Hurons went as envoys to the Mohawk lands to protect their fragile peace of the time. Mohawk attitudes towards peace soured while the Jesuits were traveling, their warriors attacked the party while they were en route. The missionaries were taken to a village called Ossernenon, near present-day Auriesville, New York, where moderate Turtle and Wolf clans had recommended setting the priests free. This angered members of the Bear clan who killed Jean de Lalande and Isaac Jogues on the 18th of October 1646. The Catholic Church has commemorated the two French priests and Jesuit Lay Brother Rene Goupil, who was also killed on the 29th of September 1642, as among the eight North American Martyrs.

In 1649, during the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois used their recently purchased Dutch guns to attack the Huron, who had allied with the French. These attacks had primarily been against the Huron towns of Taenhatentaron (St. Ignace) and St. Louis in Michigan. These were the final battles that would effectively destroy the Huron Confederacy, taking place from 1651-1652. The Iroquois had attacked the Susquehannock who were located to their south in today’s Pennsylvania, without any sustained success.

The Iroquois Confederacy would reach the height of their power in the early part of the 17th century, having a total population of about 12,000 people. In 1653, the Onondaga Nation extended a peace invitation to New France. The expedition was led by the Jesuits, Simon Le Monye, who’d established Sainte Marie de Ganentaa in 1656 in their territory. The Jesuits were forced to abandon the mission by 1658, as hostilities resumed, possibly because of the sudden death of 500 native people from an epidemic of smallpox, a European infectious disease to which they had no immunity.

Between 1658 and 1663, the Iroquois were at war with the Susquehannock and their allies, the Lenape and the Province of Maryland. In 1663, a large Iroquois invasion force was defeated at the Susquehannock main fort. The Iroquois were also at war then with the Sokoki tribe of the upper Connecticut River. Smallpox struck again, and through the effects of the disease, famine and war, the Iroquois were under threat of becoming extinct. A year later, an Oneida party struck at the allies of the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehannock.

During 1665, three of the Five Nations had made peace with the French. A year later, the Canadian Governor had sent the Carignan regiment under Marquis de Tracy to confront the Mohawk and Oneida, the Mohawk avoided the battle, but the French burned their villages and crops. The remaining two Iroquois Nations that signed a peace treaty with the French and agreed to allow their missionaries to visit their villages. The treaty would last for the next eighteen years.


The Iroquois drove the Siouan-speaking Mannahoac tribe out of the Virginia Piedmont region around 1670. They started to claim ownership of the territory by right of conquest. In 1672, the Iroquois were defeated by a war party of the Susquehannock. The Iroquois appealed to the French for support and asked that Governor Frontenac assist them against the Susquehannock stating:

“It would be a shame for him to allow his children to be crushed, as they saw themselves to be..they not having the means of going to attack their fort, which was very strong, nor even of defending themselves if the others came to attack them in their villages.”

Some old histories state that the Iroquois had defeated the Susquehannock during this time period as well. There is no record of defeat that has ever been found, so historians have concluded that no defeat actually occurred. In 1677, the Iroquois would adopt the majority of the Iroquoian-speaking Susquehannock into their own nation.

By this same year, the Iroquois had formed an alliance with the English through an agreement known as “The Covenant Chain”, together they would battle to a standstill with the French. The French were allies with the Huron, and these Iroquoian people had been the traditional and historic foe of the Confederacy. They would send raiding parties westward all the way to the Illinois Country. The tribes of the Illinois were eventually defeated, not by the Iroquois, but by the Potawatomi.

In 1679, the Susquehannock, with the help of the Iroquois, attacked Maryland’s Piscataway and Mattawoman allies. There would be no peace until 1685. A year before peace had come, the Iroquois invaded Virginia and Illinois territories again and unsuccessfully attacked the French outposts in Illinois territory. Trying to reduce warfare in the Shenandoah Valley, later that year, the Virginia Colony agreed during a conference at Albany, to recognize the Iroquois’ right to use the North-South path known as the Great Warpath. It ran east along Blue Ridge, the agreement would be met as long as they didn’t intrude on English settlements east of the fall line.

During 1687, Jacques-Rene de Brisay de Denonville, Marquis de Denonville, the Governor of New France from 1685-1689, had set out for Fort Frontenac with a well-organized force. They met up with the fifty hereditary sachems from the Onondaga council. Together, they made a flag of truce. Denonville recaptured the fort for New France and seized, chained and shipped the fifty Iroquois chiefs to Marseilles in France to be used as a galley of slaves. He also ravaged the land of the Seneca. He’d land at Iroquoian Bay with his French armada, striking straight into the seat of the Seneca power. He would destroy many of the Seneca’s villages. Before they were attacked, many of the Seneca fled, moving farther west, east and south down the Susquehanna River. Though suffering great damages to their homeland, the Seneca’s military might was not appreciably weakened. The Confederacy and Seneca developed an alliance with the English, who’d been settling in the east. The destruction of the Seneca land infuriated the members of the Iroquois Confederacy and on the 4th of August, 1689, they retaliated by burning to the ground Lachine, which was a small town adjacent to Montreal. In 1500, the Iroquois warriors had been harassing Montreal defenses for many months before.

They’d finally exhausted and defeated Denonville’s forces, and his tenure was followed by the return of Frontenac, who had succeeded Denonville as the Governor for the following nine years. Frontenac had been arranging a new plan of attack to lessen the effects of the Iroquois in North America. Realizing the danger of continuing to hold the sachems, Frontenac located the thirteen surviving leaders and returned with them to New France in October of 1689.

In 1696, he’d decided to take field against the Iroquois, even though he was seventy-six-years-old. On the 6th of July, Frontenac left Lachine to a considerable force and traveled to the village of the Onondaga, where he would arrive a month later. With the support of the French, the Algonquian nations were able to drive the Iroquois out of the territories north of Lake Erie and west of what is now Cleveland, Ohio, the regions of which they conquered during the Beaver Wars.

In the meantime, the Iroquois had abandoned their villages. As pursuit was impracticable, the French army commenced its return march on the 10th of August. Under Frontenac’s leadership, the Canadian militia became increasingly adept at guerrilla warfare. War would enter the Iroquois territory and a number of English settlements were attacked. The Iroquois never threatened the French colony again.

During King William’s War, the North American part of the War of the Grand Alliance, the Iroquois were allied with the English. In July 1701, they concluded the “Nanfan Treaty”, deeding the English a large tract north of the Ohio River. The Iroquois claimed to have conquered this territory eighty years earlier. France didn’t recognize the validity of this treaty, as it had settlements in the territory at the time and the English had virtually none. Meanwhile, the Iroquois were negotiating their peace with the French. Together they would sign the Great Peace of Montreal in that same year.

The French and Indian Wars

After 1701, a peace treaty with the French and Iroquois remained mostly neutral. During

The Four Mohawk Kings
The Four Mohawk Kings by John Verelst

Queen Anne’s War (the North American part of the War of the Spanish Succession), they were involved in planned attacks against the French. Peter Schuyler, Mayor of Albany, had arranged for three Mohawk chiefs and a Mahican chief (known incorrectly as the Four Mohawk Kings) to travel to London in 1710 to meet with Queen Anne in an effort to seal an alliance with the British. Queen Anne was so impressed by her visitors that she commissioned their portraits by court painter John Verelst. These portraits are believed to be the earliest surviving oil portraits of an Aboriginal peoples taken from life.

In the first quarter of the 18th century, Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora had fled north due to the pressure of British colonization of North Carolina and inter-tribal warfare. They had been subject to having captives sold into Indian slavery. They’d petition to become the sixth nation of the Iroquois Confederacy. This was a non-voting position, but they’d gained the protection of the Haudenosaunee.

The Iroquois program toward defeated tribes had favored assimilation with the ‘Covenant Chain’ and Great Law of Peace, over the wholesale slaughter. Both Lenni Lenape and Shawnee were briefly tributary to the Six Nations, while they were subject to Iroquoian populations that had emerged in the next period as the Mingo, who spoke a dialect of the Seneca, and were from the Ohio region.

Between 1721 and 1722, Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia would conclude a new Treaty at Albany with the Iroquois. He’d renew the ‘Covenant Chain’ and agreed to recognize the Blue Ridge as demarcation between the Virginia Colony and the Iroquois. However, as European settlers began to move beyond the Blue Ridge and into the Shenandoah Valley in the 1730s, the Iroquois had objected. The Virginia officials told them that demarcation was to prevent the Iroquois from trespassing to the east of the Blue Ridge, but it didn’t prevent the English from expanding west. Tensions increased over the next decades and the Iroquois were on the verge of going to war with the Virginia Colony. In 1743, Governor Gooch would pay the sum of one hundred pounds sterling for any settled land in the Valley that was claimed by the Iroquois. In the following year, at the Treaty of Lancaster, the Iroquois sold Virginia all of their remaining claims in the Shenandoah Valley for two hundred pounds in gold.

During the French and Indian War, the North American part of the Seven Years War, the Iroquois chose sides with the British against the French and their Algonquian allies, who were their traditional enemies. The Iroquois hoped that in aiding the British they would be able to receive favors from them after the war. Only few Iroquois warriors joined the campaign though. In the Battle of Lake George, a group of Catholic Mohawk (from Kahnawake), and the French forces ambushed the Mohawk-led British column. The Mohawk were deeply disturbed with this as they created their confederacy for peace among peoples that hadn’t had warfare against each other.

Once the war was over, to protect their alliance, the British government issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763. It had forbid Anglo-European (white) settlements beyond the Appalachian Mountains. The colonists had largely ignored the order, and the British didn’t have enough soldiers to enforce it.

Faced with confrontations, the Iroquois agreed to adjust the line again in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768. Sir William Johnson, 1st Baronet, the British Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern District, had called the Iroquois nations together in a grand conference in western New York. A total of 3,102 Indians attended. They had, for a long time, had good relations with Johnson, who had traded with them and learned their languages and customs. As Alan Taylor had noted in his history, “The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution” (2006), “the Iroquois were creative and strategic thinkers. “ They chose to sell to the British Crown all their remaining claim to the lands between the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, which they did not occupy, hoping by doing so to draw off English pressure on their territories in the Province of New York.

The Iroquois in the American Revolution

Joseph Louis Cook drawing
a drawing of Joseph Louis Cook

At the time of the American Revolution, the Iroquois had, at first, tried to stay neutral. In being pressed to join one side or the other, the Tuscarora and Oneida sided with the colonists, while the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga and Cayuga remained loyal to Great Britain, of whom they had a stronger relationship with. Joseph Louis Cook had offered his services to the United States and would receive a Congressional commission as a lieutenant colonel, the highest rank held by any Native American during the war.

The Mohawk war chief, Joseph Brant, other war chiefs, and their

Joseph Brant
Joseph Brant

British allies conducted numerous operations against the frontier settlements in the Mohawk Valley, including the Cherry Valley Massacre. It was during this that many villages and crops were destroyed and inhabitants were killed or captured. The Continentals would retaliate, and in 1779, George Washington ordered the Sullivan Campaign. This campaign was led by Col. Daniel Brodhead and General John Sullivan against the Iroquois nations to “not merely overrun, but destroy”the British-Indian alliance. They burned many of the Iroquois’ villages and stores throughout western New York, many of the refugees would move to the north into Canada. By the end of the war, only a few

Daniel Brodhead
Daniel Brodhead

houses and barns in the valley had survived the warfare.

The American Revolution was a war that had caused a great divide among the Patriots and the Loyalists and also caused a rift that would break the Iroquois Confederacy. At the start of the Revolution, the Iroquois Confederacy’s Six Nation had attempted to take a stance on neutrality, as was stated before, however, almost inevitably, the nations eventually had to take sides in the conflict. It is easy to see how the war would have caused conflict and confusion among the Six Nations. For years they had been used to thinking that the English and their colonists were one and the same people. In the war, the Iroquois Confederacy had to now deal with the relationships between two different governments.

The Confederation’s population had changed significantly since the arrival of the Europeans. Disease had decreased the population to a fraction of what it had been in the past. Therefore, it was in their best interest to be on the good side of whomever would prove to be the winning side in the war, as the winning side would dictate how the future relationships would be with the Iroquois in North America.

In dealing with the two governments, the Iroquois found it hard to maintain a neutral stance, as the governments could get jealous quite easily if the Confederacy was interacting or trading more with one side over the other, or even if there was simply a perception of favoritism. It’s because of this challenging situation that the Six Nations had to pick a side. The Oneida and Tuscarora decided to support the American colonists, while the rest of the League sided with the British and their Loyalists among the colonists.

There are many reasons why the Six Nations couldn’t remain neutral and uninvolved in the Revolutionary War. One of these is simply due to their proximity to it all. The Nations were very discontented with the encroachment of the English and their colonists upon their lands. They were particularly concerned with their border establishments in the Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768.

During the war, the authority of the British government over the frontier was highly contested. The colonists tried to take advantage of this as much as possible by seeking their own profit and claiming new lands. In 1775, the Six Nations were still neutral when “a Mohawk person was killed by a Continental soldier”. This such case shows how the Six Nations’ proximity had drawn them into the war. They were concerned about being killed and their lands being taken from them. They also could not show weakness and simply let the colonists and the British do whatever they wanted. Many of the English and colonists didn’t respect the Nations’ treaties that were set in the past. “A number of His Majesty’s subjects in the American colonies viewed the proclamation as a temporary prohibition which would soon give way to the opening of the area for settlement..and that it was simply an agreement to quiet the minds of the Indians.” The Six Nations had to take a stand to show that they would not stand to be treated in such a way, and they looked to build a relationship with a government that would respect their territory.

In addition to being close to the war, the new lifestyle and economics of the Iroquois Confederacy since the Europeans arrived in North America had made it nearly impossible for the Iroquois to isolate themselves from the conflict. By the time this happened, the Iroquois had become dependent upon the trading of goods from the English and colonists and had adopted many of the Europeans’ customs, tools and weapons. For example, they were increasingly dependent on firearms for hunting. After becoming so reliant it would have been hard to even consider cutting off trade that had brought goods that were a central part of their everyday life.

Barbara Graymont had stated:

“Their task was an impossible one to maintain neutrality. Their economies and lives had become so dependent on each other for trading goods and benefits it was impossible to ignore the conflict. Meanwhile they had to try and balance their interactions with both groups. They did not want to seem as they were favoring one group over the other, because of sparking jealousy and suspicion from either side.”

Furthermore, the English had many agreements with the Six Nations over the years, yet most of the Iroquois’ day-to-day interaction had been with the colonists. This would have made the situation quite confusing for them and they couldn’t tell who their true heirs of agreement were, and couldn’t have known if agreements with England would continue to be honored by the colonists if they were to win their independence from the Crown.

Choosing one side or the other was a complicated decision for the Six Nations, as each nation had to individually weigh their options to come up with their final stance that would ultimately break their neutrality and end the collective agreement of the Confederation. The British were clearly the most organized and seemed to have been more powerful as well. In many cases they presented the situation to the Iroquois as the colonists just being “naughty children”. On the other hand, the Iroquois considered the fact that “the British government was three thousand miles away. This placed them at a disadvantage in attempting to enforce both the Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty at Fort Stanwix in 1768 against land hungry frontiersmen.”

The Iroquois also had concerns about the colonists as well. The British had asked for the Iroquois to support them in the war and “In 1775, the Continental Congress sent a delegation to the Iroquois in Albany to ask for their neutrality in the war coming against the British.” It had been clear in previous years that the colonists hadn’t been respectful of the land agreements that were made in 1763 and 1768, and in fact, the Iroquois Confederacy was particularly concerned over the possibility of the colonists winning the war. If a revolutionary victory were to happen, the Iroquois saw it as a precursor to their lands being taken away by the colonists who would no longer have the British Crown to restrain them from doing so. The Continental Army officers, such as George Washington, had tried to destroy the Iroquois before.

On a contrasting note though, it was the colonists who had formed the most direct relationships with the Iroquois, due to their close proximity and trading ties with them. For the most part, the Iroquois and colonists had lived relatively peaceful among one another since the English arrival on the continent a century and a half before. The Iroquois had to decide whether their relationships with the colonists were reliable, or whether the English would prove to better serve their interests. They also had to determine whether there were really any differences between how the English or the colonists would treat them.

Regardless, the war ensued and the Iroquois broke their confederation. Hundreds of years of precedent and collective government was trumped by the immensity of the American Revolutionary War. At the conclusion of the war, the fear that the colonists wouldn’t respect the Iroquois’ pleas came to a reality. Especially after the majority of the Six Nations decided to side with the British and were no longer considered to be trustworthy by the newly independent Americans. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed. While the treaty included peace agreements between all of the European nations involved in the war and the newborn United States, it made no provisions for the Iroquois. They were left to be treated however the new United States government saw fit.

Post-War Iroquois

After the Revolutionary War, the ancient central fireplace of the League was re-established at Buffalo Creek. By 1811, Methodist and Episcopalian missionaries had established their missions to assist the Oneida and Onondaga in western New York. However, more and more white settlers continued to move into the area. Ten years later, a group of Oneida, led by Eleazar Williams, a son of a Mohawk woman, went to Wisconsin to buy land from the Menominee and the Ho-Chunk, and thus move their people further westward. Captain Joseph Brant and a group of Iroquois also left New York to settle in the Province of Quebec, present-day Ontario, to partially replace the lands that they had lost in the Mohawk Valley and elsewhere due to their fateful alliance with the British Crown. They were given large land grants on the Grand River, at the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation. Brant’s crossing of the river gave the area of Brant’s Ford it’s name. In 1847, European settlers began to settle nearby and named the village Brantford. Back in the 1830s, many additional Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, Cayuga and Tuscarora had also relocated into Indian Territory, the Province of Upper Canada and Wisconsin.

Iroquois in the West

Many of the Iroquois, most of them Mohawk, and the Iroquois that were descended from the Metis people living in Lower Canada, primarily the Kahnawake, took employment with the Montreal-based North West Company during its existence from 1779 until 1821. They would become voyageurs or free traders that worked in the North American fur trade and moved as far west as the Rocky Mountains. These peoples were known to have settled in the area around Jasper’s House, and possibly as far west as Finlay River. They also moved north, as far as Pouce Coupe and the Dunvegan areas, where they had founded new Aboriginal communities. Some of these have persisted to the present-day claiming either First Nations or Metis identity and indigenous rights. The Michael Band, Mountain Metis, and Aseniwuche Winewak Nation of Canada in the Alberta and Kelly Lake community of British Columbia all claim to be of Iroquois ancestry.

20th Century Iroquois

The League of Nations was a complex political environment that had emerged in Canada with the Haudenosaunee, and grew out of the Anglo-American era of European colonization. At the end of the War of 1812, Britain had shifted the Indian affairs from being controlled by the military to by civilians. With the creation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867, civil authority, and thus Indian affairs, had passed to the Canadian officials with Britain retaining control of the military and matters of security. At the turn of the century, the Canadian government began to pass a series of Acts that would strenuously be objected to by the Iroquois Confederacy. During World War I, an act attempted to conscript the Six Nations men for military service. Under the Soldiers Resettlement Act, legislation was introduced to redistribute native lands. During 1920, an Act was also proposed to force citizenship on “Indians” with or without their consent, when then automatically removed their share of any tribal lands from the tribal trust and made the land and people subject to the laws of Canada.

The Haudenossaunee hired a lawyer to defend their rights in the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court refused to take the case and declared members of the Six Nations were British citizens. At the time, Canada was a division of the British government, it was not an international state, as defined by international law. In contrast, the Iroquois Confederacy had been making treaties and functioning as a state since 1643 and all of their treaties had been negotiated with Britain and not Canada. As a result, the decision was made in 1921 to send a delegation to petition the King of England. Whereupon, Canada’s External Affairs division blocked issuing passports. As a response to this, the Iroquois began to issue their own passports and would send Levi General, Cayuga Chief “Deskaheh”to England with the attorney. Winston Churchill dismissed their complaint, complaining that it was within the realm of Canadian jurisdiction and then referred them back to the Canadian officials.

On the 4th of December 1922, Charles Stewart, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and Duncan Campbell Scott, the Deputy Superintendent of the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs, traveled to Brantford to negotiate a settlement on issues with the Six Nations. After the meeting, the Native delegation brought an offer to tribal council, as was the custom of the Haudenosaunee law. The council agreed to accept the offer, but before they could respond, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police conducted a liquor raid on the Iroquois’ Grand River Territory. This siege lasted three days and prompted the Haudenosauntee to send Deskaheh to Washington D.C. to meet with charged d’affaires of the Netherlands, asking the Dutch Queen to sponsor them for membership in the League of Nations. Under pressure from the British, the Netherlands reluctantly refused sponsorship.

Deskaheh and the tribal attorney proceeded to Geneva, attempting to gather support. On the 27th of September 1923, delegates representing Estonia, Ireland, Panama, and Persia signed a letter asking for communication of the Six Nations’ petition to the League’s assembly. The effort was blocked though and the Six Nations delegates traveled to the Hague and back to Geneva trying to gain supporters and recognition. Back in Canada, the government was drafting a mandate to replace the traditional Haudenosaunee Confederacy Council with one that would be elected under auspices of the Canadian Indian Act. In an unpublicized signing on the 17th of September 1924, Prime Minister Mackenzie, King and Governor-General Lord Byng of Vimy signed an Order in Council. They set elections for the 21st of October on the Six Nations reserve, only twenty-six ballots were cast.

The long-term effect of the Order was that the Canadian government had wrested the control over the Haudenosaunee trust funds from the Iroquois Confederation and decades of litigation would be to follow. In 1979, over three hundred Indian chiefs paid a visit to London to oppose the Patriation of Canadian Constitution, fearing that their rights to be recognized in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 would be jeopardized. In 1981, in hopes again to clarify judicial responsibilities of treaties with Britain weren’t transferred to Canada, several Alberta Indian chiefs had filed a petition with the British High Court of Justice. They had lost the case, but had gained the invitation from the Canadian government to participate in constitutional discussions, which were to deal with the protection of treaty rights.

The United States’ Indian Termination Policies

From World War II up into the 1960s, the United States government had followed the policy of Indian Termination for its Native citizens. In a series of laws, trying to mainstream the tribal people into the greater society, the government strove to end the United States government’s recognition of tribal sovereignty, eliminate trusteeship over Indian reservations, and implement state law applicability to native persons. In general, the laws were expected to create taxpaying citizens, subject to state and federal taxes as well as laws, from which the Natives had previously been exempt from.

On the 13th of August 1946, the Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946, Pub. L. No. 79-726, ch. 959, was passed. The purpose of this was to settle, for all time, any outstanding grievances or claims that tribes may have against the United States for treaty breaches, unauthorized taking of land, dishonorable or unfair dealings, or inadequate compensation. Claims had to be filed within a five year time frame, and most of the three hundred and seventy complaints that were submitted had been filed at the approach of the five year deadline in August of 1951.

Congress would enact [Public Law 881] 62 Stat. 1224, on the 2nd of July 1948. This transferred the criminal jurisdiction over offenses committed by and against “Indians” to the State of New York. It would cover all reservation lands within the state and also prohibited deprivation of hunting and fishing rights, which may have been guaranteed to “any indian tribe, band, or community, or members thereof.” It also prohibited the state from requiring tribal members to obtain fish and game licenses. Within two years, Congress also passed [Public Law 785] 64 Stat. 845, on the 13th of September 1950. This would extend New York’s authority to civil disputes, prohibited taxation on reservations and reaffirmed hunting and fishing rights. It also prohibited the state from enforcing judgments regarding any land disputes or applying any State Laws to tribal lands or claims prior to the effective date of the law. During the congressional hearing on the law, tribes had strongly opposed passage, and were fearful that the states would deprive them of their reservations. The state of New York disavowed any intention to break up or deprive the tribes of their reservations and asserted that they had not had the ability to do so anyhow.

On the 31st of August 1964, H.R. 1794, an Act to authorize payment for certain interests in lands within the Allegheny Indian Reservation in New York, was passed by Congress and sent to the president for signature. The bill would authorize payment for resettling and rehabilitation of the Seneca Indians, who were being dislocated by construction of the Kinzu Dam on the Allegheny River. Only 127 Seneca families (about 500 people), were dislocated, legislation benefited the entire Seneca Nation because taking of the Indian land for the dam abridged a 1794 treaty agreement. In addition, the bill provided that within three years, a plan from the Interior Secretary should be submitted to Congress, withdrawing all federal supervision over the Seneca Nation, though this was technically a civil and criminal jurisdiction that was within the State of New York since 1950.

Kinzu Dam
The Kinzu Dam

A memo from the Department of the Interior announced proposed legislation was being submitted to end the federal ties with the Seneca on the 5th of September 1967. A year later, new liason was appointed from BIA for the tribe to assist them in preparing for termination until President Nixon issued his Special Message to the Congress on Indian Affairs in July of 1970. Thus, no New York tribes then living in New York was terminated during this period.

In a twist of fate, one former New York tribe did lose its federal recognition. The Emigrant Indians of New York had included the Oneidas, Stockbridge-Munsee and the Brothertown Indians of Wisconsin. In an attempt to fight termination and force the government into recognizing their outstanding land claims from New York. The three tribes fled litigation with the Claims Commission in the 1950s and won their claim on the 11th of August 1964. Public Law 90-93 Stat. 229 Emigrant New York Indians of Wisconsin Judgment Act had established a federal trusteeship to pay the Oneidas and Stockbridge-Munsee. This effectively ended the Congressional termination efforts for them, though the law didn’t specifically state, the Brothertown Indians were terminated, and all authorized payments were to be made directly to each enrollee with special provisions for minors to be handled by a Secretary. Payments were not subject to the states of federal taxes.

Starting in 1978, the Brothertown Indians submitted a petition to regain their federal recognition. In 2012, the Department of the Interior, in a final determination on the Brothertown petition found that Congress had terminated their status when it granted them citizenship in 1838. Therefore, only Congress could restore their status. They are still seeking Congress’ approval.

The Iroquois Culture

The Iroquois League traditions allowed for the dead to be symbolically replaced through captives that were taken in the “mourning wars”. These were carried out in blood feuds and vendettas that were an essential aspect of the Iroquois culture. It was a way of expediting the mourning process and raids would be conducted to take a vengeance and seize more captives. The captives were usually adopted directly by the grieving family to replace the member(s) that they had lost.

This process had not only allowed for the Iroquois to maintain their own numbers, but also helped to disperse and assimilate their enemies. The adoption of conquered peoples, especially during the Beaver Wars, had meant that the Iroquois League was composed largely of naturalized members from other tribes. Cadwallader Colden would write:

“It has been a constant maxim with the Five Nations, to save children and young men of the people they conquer, to adopt them into their own Nation, and to educate them as their own children, without distinction. These young people soon forget their own country and nation and by this policy the Five Nations make up the losses which their nation suffers by the people they lose in war.”

By 1668, two-thirds of the Oneida villages were assimilated Algonquians and Hurons. The Onondaga were Native Americans of the seven different nations and among the Seneca eleven. They too had adopted European captives, as did the Catholic Mohawk in the settlements outside of Montreal. This tradition of adoption and assimilation was common for the native people of the northeast, but it was quite different from the European settlers’ notions of combat.

At the time of the first European contact, the Iroquois were living in small numbers of large villages that were scattered throughout their territory. Each nation had between one and four villages at any one time. The villages were moved around approximately every five to twenty years, as the soil and firewood were depleted. These settlements would be surrounded by a palisade and were usually located in a defensible area, such as a hill, with access to water. Due to their palisade appearance, the Europeans would term them as castles.

Within the villages, the inhabitants lived in longhouses. In 1653, a Dutch official and landowner by the name of Adriaen van der Donck described the Mohawk longhouse in his Description of New Netherland:

“The houses are mostly one and the same shape, without any special embellishment or remarkable design. When building a house, large or small-for sometimes they build them as long as some hundred feet, though never more than 20 feet wide–they stick long, thin, peeled hickory poles in the ground, as wide apart and as long as the house is to be. The poles are then bent over and fastened one to another, so that it looks like a wagon or arbor as are put in gardens. Next, strips like split laths are laid across these poles from one end to other..This is then well covered all over with very tough bark..From one end of the house to the other along the center they kindle fires, and the area left open, which is also in the middle, serves as a chimney to release the smoke. Often there are sixteen or eighteen families in a house..This means that often a hundred and fifty or more lodge in one house.”

A castle may have contained twenty to thirty longhouses. In addition to castles the Iroquois also had smaller settlements which may have been occupied seasonally by smaller groups. For example, those that were out fishing or hunting.

Iroquois longhouse
The Iroquois Longhouse

The total population for the five nations has been estimated to have been 20,000 before 1634. After 1635 though, this population had dropped to around 6,800. This was mainly due to the epidemic of smallpox that was introduced by the European settlers upon contact with the Native Americans.

By the later 1700s, the Iroquois were building smaller log cabins that had resembled those of the colonists, but had retained some of their native features, such as the bark roots with smoke holes and a central fireplace.

Iroquois Food

The Iroquois are a mix of horticulturists, farmers, fishers, hunters, and gatherers, though their main diet is traditionally from farming. The main crops that the Iroquois cultivated are corn, beans and squash. These three vegetables are known as the three sisters and are considered to be special gifts from the Creator. The crops are grown in a strategic manner, cornstalks are grown first and provide the stalks for the beans to climb that are planted beneath them. The squash are planted below the beans and inhibit weeds and keep the soil moist under the shade of their broad leaves. In this combination of growing, the soil would remain fertile for several decades.

Food would be stored during the winter months and would last for two to three years. When the soil in one area would eventually lose its fertility, the Haudenosaunee would move their entire village.

Gathering was traditionally the job of women and children. Wild roots, greens, berries and nuts would be gathered in the summer time. During the spring time, sap would be tapped from maple trees and boiled into maple syrup, herbs would also be gathered during this time. The Iroquois would hunt mostly deer, but also other game, such as wild turkey and migratory birds. Muskrats and beaver would be hunted during the winter months. Another significant food source for the Iroquois was fish, as most of their villages were in the St. Lawrence area. They fished for salmon, trout, bass, perch, and whitefish until the St. Lawrence River became too polluted by industry. In the spring time, the Iroquois also netted, and in the winter they would put fishing holes in the ice, of which they would fish through.

Iroquois Clothing

In 1644, Johannes Megapolensis had described the Mohawk traditional clothing:

“In summer they go naked, having only their private parts covered with a patch. The children and young folks to ten, twelve and fourteen years of age go stark naked. In winter, they hang about them simply an undressed deer or bear or panther skin; or they take some beaver and otter skins, wild cat, raccoon, martin, otter, mink, squirrel or such like skins..and sew some of them to others, until it is a square piece, and that is then a garment for them; or they buy of us Dutchmen two and a half ells [about 170 centimeters] (5.6 feet) of duffel, and that they hang simply about them, just as it was torn off, without sewing it.”

On their feet, the Iroquois would wear moccasins

“true to nature in its adjustment to the foot, beautiful in its materials and finish, and durable as an article of apparel. The moccason is made of one piece of deer-skin. It is seemed up at the heel, and also in front, above the foot, leaving the bottom of the moccasin without a seam. In front the deer-skin is gathered, in place of being crimped; over this part porcupine quills or beads are worked, in various patterns. The plain moccasin rises several inches above the ankle..and is fasted with deer strings; but usually this part is turned down, so as to expose a part of the instep, and is ornamented with bead-work.”

There was another sort of moccasin that was made of corn husks. In 1653, the Dutch official Adriaen van der Donck wrote:

“Around their waist they all [I.e. both men and women] wear a belt made of leather, whalefin, whalebone, or wampum. The men pull a length of duffel cloth–if they have it– under this belt, front and rear, and pass it between the legs. It is over half an ell [35 cm (14in)] wide and nine quarter-ells [15 cm (61 inc)] long, which leaves a square flap hanging down in front and back..Before duffel cloth was common in that country, and sometimes even now when it cannot be had, they took for that purpose some dressed leather or fur–The women also wear a length of woolen cloth of full width [165 cm (65in)] and an ell and a quarter [90 cm (35 in)] long, which comes halfway down the leg. It is like a petticoat, but under it, next to the body, they wear a deerskin which also goes around the waist and ends in cleverly cut pointed edging and fringes. The wealthier women and those who have a liking for it wear such skirts wholly embroidered with wampum..As for covering the upper part of the body both men and women use a sheet of duffel cloth of full width, I.e. nine and a half quarter-ells, and about three ells [210 cm (83 in)] long. It is usually worn over the right shoulder and tied in a knot around the waist and from there hangs down to the feet.”

By the 1900s, most of the Iroquois were wearing the

Iroquois Mens Clothing
Iroquois Man’s Clothing

same clothing as their non-Indian neighbors. Today most nations only wear their traditional clothing to ceremonies or special events. Men would wear a cap with a single feather rotating in a socket called a gustoweh. Later, these feathers in gustoweh denote the wearer’s tribe by their number and positioning. The Mohawk wore three upright feathers, Oneida, two upright and one down. The Onondaga would wear one feather pointing upward and another pointing down. The Cayuga Indians wore a single feather pointed at a 45 degree angle. Seneca would wear a single feather that pointed up, and the Tuscarora had no distinguishing feathers.

During 1851, Morgan wrote that Iroquois women

Iroquois Womens Clothing
Iroquois Women’s Clothing

outfits had consisted of a skirt (known as a ga-ka-ah) “usually of blue broadcloth, and elaborately embroidered with bead-work. It requires two yards of cloth, which is worn with the selvedge at the top and bottom; the skirt being secured about the waist and descending nearly to the top of the moccasin.” Underneath the skirt, between the knees and moccasins, women wore leggings, called pantalettes by Morgan “of red broadcloth, and ornamented with a border of beadwork around the lower ancient times the gise-ha was made of deer-skin and embroidered with porcupine-quill work”. An overdress of muslin or calico had been worn over the skirt, it was “gathered slightly at the waist, and falls part way down the front it is generally buttoned with silver broaches.” The blanket is two or three yards of blue or green broadcloth and “it falls from the head or neck in natural folds the width of the cloth, as the selvedges are at the top and bottom, and it is gathered round the person like a shawl.”

Women would wear their hair very long and would tie it together in the back, or “tied at the back of the head and folded into a tress of about a hand’s length, like a beaver tail..they wear around the forehead a strap of wampum shaped like the headband that some was worn in olden times.”

Iroquois Mohawk
An example of the Iroquois’ Mohawk Hairstyle

“The men have a long lock hanging down, some on one side of the head, and some on both sides. On the top of their heads they have a streak of hair from the forehead to the neck, about the breadth of three fingers, and this they shorten until it is about two of three fingers long, and it stands right on end like a cock’s comb or hog’s bristles; on both sides of this cock’s comb they cut all the hair short, except for the aforesaid locks, such as aree in sweeping brushes and then they are in fine array.” This style of haircut was the forerunner to what is today considered a “Mohawk style”. Only men would paint their faces, and would use many different colors to do so.

Iroquois Medicine

The Iroquois Indians traditionally used plants for their medicine. These had consisted of Agrimonia gryposepala, which was used to treat diarrhea; interrupted fern, which was used for blood and venereal diseases and conditions; and a cone flower (echinacea), for an immune system booster and treatment for respiratory diseases. They would give an infusion of Chelidonium majus, another plant and milk to pigs that drool and have sudden movements. Ranunculus acris would be used in applying a poultice of smashed plant to the chest for pains and colds, and an infusion of roots could also be used for diarrhea. They would apply a poultice of plant fragments with another plant to the skin to create excess water in the blood by using these “medications”. Symphyotrichum novae-angliae had been used in a decoction for weak skin, or a decoction of roots and leaves for fevers, or they’d use the plant as a “love medicine” and used an infusion of the whole plant and rhizomes from another plant to treat mothers with intestinal fevers.

Another decoction of roots that the Iroquois would use was with chicory. This was used as a wash and applied as a poultice to chancres and fever sores. Allium tricoccum was also used in a decoction to treat worms in children, it was also used as a spring tonic to “clean you out”. A compound for labor pains was utilized from epigaea repens. A compound decoction of leaves for indigestion would be made for rheumatism. The Iroquois also took a decoction of the whole plant roots, stalks and leaves for their kidneys. They’d pound an infusion of roots from Potentilla canadensis for an antidiarrheal as well. The would also use quinine, chamomile, and ipecac, which was a form of penicillin. So even though the Iroquois were around long ago they were able to take care of themselves pretty well for the time.

Where Did Women Stand in Iroquois Society?

The Iroquois are a matriarchal Mother Clan system, no person is entitled to ‘own’ land, but instead it is believed that the Creator appointed women as stewards of the land. Traditionally, Clan Mothers appoint leaders as well, since they have raised children, therefore they are held to higher regard. By the same token, if a leader doesn’t prove to be sound, becomes corrupt or doesn’t listen to the people, the Clan Mothers have the power to strip him of his leadership.

In the Iroquois matriarchal system, women would hold property and had hereditary leadership that had passed through their lines. They were able to hold dwellings, horses and also farmed land. Different from Europeans, a woman’s property before her marriage stayed in her possession without being mixed with that of her husband’s. They would have separate roles, but real power in the nations. The work of a woman’s hands was hers to do with as she pleased. Upon marriage, a young couple would live in the longhouse of the wife’s family. A woman could divorce if her husband was shiftless or otherwise unsatisfactory to her and she could ask him to leave the dwelling and take his possessions with him.

Children of the marriage would belong to the mother’s clan and would also gain social status through her line as well. A woman’s brother was very important, as they were teachers and mentors to the children, especially in introducing a boy into a man’s role in society. If a couple would separate, the woman would traditionally have kept the children.

The chief in a clan can be removed at any time by a council of the women elders of that clan. A chief’s sister would have been responsible for nominating his successor.

Iroquois Spiritual Beliefs

Like many cultures, the Iroquois’ spiritual beliefs have changed over time and have varied across tribes as well. Generally though, the Iroquois believed in numerous deities, including the Great Spirit, The Thunderer and the Three Sisters (the spirits of beans, maize, and squash).

The Great Spirit was though to have created plants, animals, and humans to control “the forces of good in nature” and to guide ordinary peoples. Orenda was the Iroquoian name for the magical potence that is found in people and their environment.

Sources provide different stories about the Iroquois’ creation beliefs. Brascoupe and Etmanskie tribes focus on the first person to walk the earth, called Skywoman or Aientsik. Aientsik’s daughter, Tekawerahkwa had given birth to twins, Tawiskaron, who created vicious animals and river rapids, and Okwiraseh, who created “all that is pure and beautiful”. After a battle where Okwiraseh had defeated Tawiskaron, Tawiskaron was confined to “the dark areas of the world,” where he governed the night and destructive creatures. Other scholars present the “twins” as Creator and his brother, Flint. The Creator was responsible for game animals and Flint was responsible for predators and disease. Saraydar suggests that the Iroquois didn’t see the twins as polar opposites, but had understood their relationship to be more complex, noting “Perfection is not to be found in gods or humans or the worlds they inhabit”.

Descriptions of the Iroquois’ spiritual history consistently refers to dark times of terror and misery that fell before the Iroquois Confederacy, which was ended by the arrival of the Great Peacemaker. Tradition asserts that Peacemaker demonstrated his authority as the Creator’s messenger by climbing a tall tree above a waterfall, having people cut the tree down and reappearing the next morning unharmed. The Peacemaker restored the mental health to a few of the most “violent and dangerous men,” Ayonhwatha and Thadodaho, who then helped him bear the message of peace to others.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

When the Europeans arrived, some Iroquois became Christians. Among those, was the first Native American Saint, Kateri Tekakwitha. She was a young woman of Mohawk-Algonquin parents. The Seneca sachem, Handsome Lake, also known as Ganeodiyo, had introduced his new religious system to the Iroquois in the late 18th century. He would incorporate the Quaker beliefs along with traditional Iroquoian culture. Handsome Lake’s teachings include a focus on parenting and an appreciation of life and peace. The key aspect of Handsome Lake’s teachings is a principle of equilibrium, wherein each person’s talents combined into a functional community. By the 1960s, at least fifty percent of Iroquois would follow Handsome Lake’s religion.

Dreams also play a significant role in the Iroquois’

Handsome Lake
Handsome Lake

spirituality. They are seen as providing information about a person’s desires and prompting them to fulfill their dreams. To communicate upward, humans can send prayers to the spirits by burning tobacco.

Iroquois ceremonies are primarily concerned with farming, healing and thanksgiving. Their key festivals correspond to the agricultural calendar and include Maple, Planting, Strawberry, Green Maize, Harvest and Mid-winter (or New Year’s), which is held in early February. These ceremonies were given to the Iroquois by the Creator to balance good and evil.

False Face Mask
An example of an Iroquois False Face Mask

During healing ceremonies, a carved “False Face Mask” is worn to represent the spirits in tobacco-burning and prayer ritual. The False Face Mask is carved in a living tree, then cut from it so that it can be painted and decorated. They represent grandfathers of the Iroquois and are thought to reconnect humans and nature and to frighten illness-causing spirits. This ceremony still continues to be used today.

A condolence ceremony is conducted by the Iroquois for both ordinary and important peoples, but most notably when sachems died, these ceremonies were still held on reservations as late as the 1970s. After death, the soul is thought to go on a journey and undergo a series of ordeals, then it arrives in the sky world. This journey is thought to take one year, during which the Iroquois mourn for the dead. After the mourning period is over, a feast is held to celebrate the soul arriving in the sky world.

“Keepers of the faith” are part-time specialists who conduct religious ceremonies. Women and men are both able to be appointed as Keepers of the faith by the tribe elders.

Festivals, Games and Sports

Traditionally, the Iroquois would celebrate six major festivals throughout the year. These would usually combine a spiritual component and a ceremony, a feast, a chance to celebrate together, sports, entertainment and dancing. The celebrations have been historically oriented to the seasons and are celebrated based on the cycle of nature, rather than fixed calendar dates. For instance, mid-winter festival, or Gi-ye-wa-no-us-qua-go-wa (“The Supreme belief) ushers in the new year. The festival is traditionally held for one week around the end of January or early February, depending on when the new moon occurs that year.

The Iroquois’ favorite sport to play was lacrosse. This version of the game was played between two teams of six or eight players. The teams would be made up of two sets of clans, the wolf, bear, beaver and turtle were on one side, and the deer, snipe, heron, and hawk were on the other, along with the Senecas. There were two goals placed on two sets of poles, roughly 450 yards apart. These poles were about ten feet high and were placed about fifteen feet apart. A goal would be scored by carrying or throwing a deer-skin ball between the goal posts using netted sticks. Touching the ball with ones hands was prohibited. This game was played to a score of five or seven. Today’s version of lacrosse still remains popular as of 2015.

A popular winter game was the snow-snake game. “Snake” was a hickory pole about five to seven feet long and about a quarter inches in diameter, turned up slightly at the front and weighted with a lead. The game was played between two sides of up to six players on

Snow Snake Game
The Snow-Snake Game

each. This game was often played by boys and occasionally between the men of two clans. Snake or Gawa’sa was held by placing the index finger against the back end and balancing it on the thumb and other fingers. It was not thrown but slid across the surface of the snow, whichever side snake went the farthest scored one point. Other snakes of the same side which went farther than any other snake of the opposing side also scored a point, whereas the other side would score nothing. This would be repeated until one side had scored the number of points which had been agreed upon before the game was started, usually this was either seven or ten.

A game known as the Peach-stone game was a gambling game, in which clans bet against each other. Traditionally, this was played on the final day of the Green Corn, Harvest and Mid-winter festivals. The game was played using a wooden bowl about one foot in diameter and six peach-stones (pits), ground into an oval shape and burned black on one side. A “bank” of beans, usually one hundred, was used to keep score. The winner was the side who won them all. Two players would sit on a blanket-covered platform that was raised a few feet off the floor. To play, the peach stones were put into the bowl and shaken. Winning combinations were five of either color or six of either color showing.

Players would start with five beans each from the bank. The starting player would shake the bowl, if he shook a five the other player would pay him one bean. If he shook either a five or six he got to shake again. If the player shook anything else the turn would pass to his opponent. All of his winners would then be handed over to a “manager” or “managers” for his side. If a player had lost all of his beans, another player from his side took his place and took five beans from the bank. Once all of the beans had been taken from the bank the game continued, but with a draw of beans now coming from the winnings of the player’s side, which had been kept out of sight so that no one but the managers knew how the game was going. The game would conclude when one side had won all of the beans. The peach-stone game could take quite a while to play, depending on the starting number of beans. Games that had lasted for longer than a day were actually quite common.

Naming Conventions

Each Iroquois clan has a group of personal names that were to be used to name members. The clan mother is responsible for keeping track of names that are not in use, which may then be reused to name infants. When a child would become an adult he would take on a new “adult” name in place of his “baby” name. Some names are reserved for chiefs or faith keepers though. When a person assumes that office, he would take the name in a ceremony of which he is considered to “resuscitate” the previous holder. If a chief resigns or is removed from their position, he would give up the name he took when he became a chief and would then resume his previous one.


Even though the Iroquois are at times mentioned as an example of groups who had practiced cannibalism, there is mixed evidence as to whether such a practice could be said to have been widespread among the Six Nations, and to whether it was a notable cultural feature. Some anthropologists have found evidence of ritualistic torture and cannibalism at Iroquois sites, for example, among the Onondaga in the 16th century. Other scholars, most notably the anthropologist William Arens in his controversial book “The Man-Eating Myth”, have challenged this evidence. He suggests that the human bones that were found at these sites point to funerary practices. He goes on to assert that if cannibalism was practiced among them it was not widespread. Today’s anthropologists seem to accept the probability that cannibalism did exist among the Iroquois. Thomas Abler describes evidence from Jesuit Relations and archaeology as making a “case for cannibalism in early historic strong that it cannot be doubted.” Scholars are also urged to remember the context for a practice that now shocks modern Western society. Sanday reminds us that the ferocity of the Iroquois’ rituals “cannot be separated from the severity of conditions..where deaths from hunger, disease, and warfare became a way of life.”

The missionaries, Johannes Megapolensis and Francois-Joseph Bressani, and fur trader Pierre-Esprit Radisson present a first-hand account of cannibalism among the Mohawk Indians. A common theme among them is the ritualistic roasting and eating the heart of a captive who was tortured and killed. “To eat your enemy is to perform an extreme form of physical dominance”.


The Lenape Tribe

The Lenape are also known as the Lenni Lenape and the Delaware Indians. They were another indigenous people of the Northeastern Woodlands and lived in both Canada and the United States. Historically, their territory included, what is now, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, along with the Delaware River watershed, New York City, western Long Island and the Lower Hudson Valley.

During the Beaver Wars, that took place in the first half of the 17th century, European colonists were careful to keep firearms from the closely located Delaware, while their rival Iroquoian people, such as the Susquehannocks and the Confederation of the Iroquois became comparatively well armed. Subsequently, the Lenape became subjugated and made tributary to the first Susquehannocks, the Iroquois, to the point that they needed their rivals (superiors) agreement to initiate treaties such as sales of land. Like most tribes, the Lenape communities were weakened by the newly introduced diseases that had originated in Europe, mainly smallpox, but also cholera, influenza and dysentery, as well as the recurrent violent racial conflict with the Europeans. The Iroquoian peoples would occasionally fight the Lenape as well. As the 18th century progressed, many of the surviving Lenape would move to the west, into the relatively empty upper Ohio River basin.

In the decades of the 18th century, most of the Lenape had been pushed out of their homelands by the expanding European colonies. Their dire situation was exacerbated by losses from intertribal conflicts. The divisions and troubles of the American Revolutionary War and the United States Independence would push them even further west. During the 1860s, the United States government sent most of the Lenape that remained in the eastern United States to Indian Territory under their Indian removal policy. This is in what is now Oklahoma and the surrounding areas. In the 21st century, most of the Lenape now reside in the United States’ state of Oklahoma, with some communities now living in Wisconsin, Ontario (Canada) and their traditional homelands.

The kinship system of the Lenape has matrilineal clans. As with the Iroquois, the children of the Lenape belong to the mother’s clan, and gain their social status and identity from it as well. A mother’s eldest brother was more significant as a mentor to a male child, than was his father, who was generally of another clan, as was also the same with the Iroquois. Hereditary leadership passed through the maternal line and women elders could remove leaders of whom they disapproved of. Agricultural land was manged by women as well and was allotted according to subsistence needs of the extended family. Newlywed couples would live with the bride’s family, where her mother and sisters could also assist her with her growing family.

The Lenape Name

The Lenni-Lenape name comes from their autonym, Lenni, which may mean “genuine, pure, real, or original”. Lenape means “indian” or “man”. When they first encountered the Europeans, they were a loose association of related people who had spoken similar languages and shared familial bonds in an area known as Lenapehoking. This area was the traditional territory of the Lenape and spanned what is now Pennsylvania, New Jersey, southern New York and eastern Delaware.

Thomas West
Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr

The tribe’s other name, “Delaware”, is not of Native American origin. The English colonists named the Delaware River for their first governor of the Province of Virginia, Thomas West, the 3rd Baron De La Warr, whose title was ultimately derived from the French language. The English then began to call the Lenape, the Renappi. Early Swedish sources list the Lenape as Renappi as well.

The traditional lands of the Lenape, covered a large territory that encompassed the Delaware Valley of eastern Pennsylvania (especially the Poconos) and New Jersey from the north bank of the Lehigh River and along the left bank of the Delaware, then south into Delaware and the Delaware Bay. Lenape lands also extended west from western Long Island and New York Bay, across the Lower Hudson Valley in New York and into the lower Catskills and a sliver of the upper edge of the North Branch Susquehanna River. On the west side, the Delaware lived in numerous small towns along the rivers and streams that fed the waterways. They had likely shared their hunting territory of the Schuylkill River watershed with their rival Iroquoian Susquehannock Indians.

The Lenape Languages

The Unami and the Musee languages belong to the Eastern Algonquian language group. Although the Unami and Munsee speakers are related, they still consider themselves as distinct. They had used different words and lived on opposite sides of the Kitatinny Mountains in modern Pennsylvania. Today, only the elders of these clans speak the language, though some young Lenape youth and adults do learn it. The German and English-speaking Moravian missionary, John Heckewelder wrote “the Monsey tong is quite different even though [it and Lenape] came out of one parent language.”

In 1682, William Penn had first met the Lenape and stated that the Unami had used the following words: “mother” was anna; “brother” was isseemus and “friend” was netap. Penn would instruct his fellow Englishmen “if one asks them for anything they have not, they will answer, matta ne hatta, which to translate is, ‘not I have,’ instead of ‘I have not’.

According to the Moravian missionary David Zeisberger, the Unami word for “food” is May-hoe-me-chink, but in Musee it is Wool-as-gat. In the Munsee language “hill” is Watts Unk, but in Unami it is Ah-choo. Sometimes the languages would share words, such as “corn” being Xash-queem, and “wolf” being too-may in both. Contemporary Unami orthography “food” is michewakan, “hill” is ahchu, “corn” is xaskwim, and “wolf” is teme.

Lenape Society

When the first European contact was made, an individual Lenape would’ve identified himself primarily with his or her immediate family and clan, friends, and/or village unit; then with his surrounding and familiar village units and next with more distant neighbors who spoke the same dialect. Ultimately, he would identify himself with all those in the surrounding area who spoke mutually comprehensible languages, including the Nanticoke people who had lived to their south and west in what is today western Delaware and eastern Maryland, or the Munsee, who had lived to their north. Many of the Algonquian peoples along the East Coast, the Lenape were considered the “grandfathers” from who other Algonquian-speaking peoples originated. Consequently, in the inter-tribal councils, the Lenape were given the respect as one would to their elders.

The Lenape tribe has three phratries, each of whom have ten or twelve clans within them, these are the Wolf, Turtle and Turkey. During 1682, when William Penn had arrived to his American commonwealth, the Lenape population had been reduced so much by disease, famine and war that sub-clan mothers reluctantly resolved to consolidate them into the main clan family. This is why Penn and all of those after him thought that the Lenape clans had always been one with three divisions, when in fact, they had over thirty on the eve of contact with the Europeans. For example, some time between 1650 and 1680, the Bear, Deer, etc, families with few members left, absorbed into the leading Wolf family.

Members of each of the clans were found throughout the Lenape territory, their clan lineage being traced through the mother. While clan mothers had controlled the land, the houses and the families, clan fathers provided meat, cleared fields, built houses and protected the clan. Upon reaching adulthood, a Lenape male would marry outside of his clan, a practice known by enthnographers as “exogamy”. This practice effectively prevented inbreeding, even among those individuals whose kinship was obscure or unknown. This would mean that a male from the Turkey Clan was expected to marry a female from either the Turtle or Wolf clans, his children, however, would not belong to the Turkey Clan, but to their mother’s clan. As such, a person’s mother’s brothers (matrilineal uncles) played a larger role in his/her life since they shared the same clan lineage. To add further clarity to the clan system, all males, as part of their passage rites into adulthood, were tattooed with their clan symbol on their chest. This is why many of the English, Dutch and Swedish traders thought that the Lenape had three or more tribes, when in fact they were one nation of kindred peoples.

Those that spoke a different language stock, such as the Iroquoian peoples, were thought of as foreigners, as is the case of the Iroquois and the Susquehannocks. The animosity of their differences and competitions would span through many generations and in general the tribes with each different language group became traditional enemies in the areas that they would meet. On the other hand, the New American Book of Indians, points out that competition, trade and wary relations were far more common than outright warfare. However, both larger societies had traditions of ‘proving’ (blooding) new (or young) warriors by ‘counting coup’ on raids into another tribes territories. Ethnicity seems to have mattered little to the Lenape and many of the other “tribes”. Archaeological excavations have found Lenape burials that included identifiably ethnic Iroquois remains interred alongside those of the Lenape. The two groups were at times bitter enemies, even before recorded history, but intermarriage had occurred. Recent scholarship exists that state both groups have an oral history that suggests they jointly came east together and displaced the Mound builders culture. In addition, both tribes had practiced adopting young captives from warfare into their tribes and assimilating them as full tribal members. The Iroquois who had adopted Lenape (or others) were known to have been part of their same religious beliefs, the adopted one would take the place in the clan of someone who was killed in warfare.

Early Europeans, raised under Patriarchal Roman foundations spread by Christian traditions, who first wrote about the Indians found their matrilineal social organization to be unfamiliar and quite perplexing. It is because of this that early records are full of clues about the early Lenape society, but were usually written by observers who didn’t really understand what they were seeing. For example, a man’s maternal uncle (his mothers brother), and not his father, was usually considered to be his closest male ancestor, since his uncle had belonged to his mother’s clan and his father belonged to a different one. The maternal uncle had played a more prominent role in the life of his sister’s children than did their father. He was likely the one responsible for educating a young boy in weapons craft, martial arts, hunting and other skills. The early European chroniclers didn’t understand this concept.

The Lenape would assign land of their common territory to a particular clan for them to hunt, fish and cultivate. Individual, private ownership of land was unknown, as land belonged to the entire clan while they inhabited it. However, women often had rights to traditional areas for cultivation. The clans had lived in fixed settlements, using their surrounding areas for communal hunting and planting until the land was exhausted, this was a common practice and was known as “agricultural shifting”. The group would then move on to find a new settlement within their territory.

This tribe was known to practice large-scale agriculture, so as to augment a mobile hunter-gatherer society in the regions around the Delaware River. They were mainly a sedentary people, who had occupied campsites seasonally as well. This would give them relatively easy access to small game that lived in the region, including fish, birds, shellfish and deer. The people would develop sophisticated techniques of hunting and managing their resources in the area.

When the Europeans arrived, the Lenape were cultivating their fields of vegetation

Giovanni da Verrazano
Giovanni da Verrazzano

through a slash and burn technique. This extended the productive life of the planted fields. They also were harvesting vast amounts of fish and shellfish from the bays in the area and in southern New Jersey, they would harvest clams year-round. The success of these methods had allowed the Lenape tribe to maintain their larger population than the nomadic hunter-gatherers could have supported. Scholars estimate that when the Europeans began to settle the area, the Lenape may have numbered about 15,000 in approximately eighty settlement sites around much of the New York City area alone. In 1524, some Lenape in canoes met Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European explorer to enter New York Harbor.

From the time of European contact, the Lenape have participated in agriculture, mostly planting. Women would cultivate many varieties of the “Three Sisters,” corn, beans and squash. Men also practiced hunting and harvesting of seafood. The Europeans, from the 17th century colonies of New Netherland and New Sweden, traded with the Lenape for their agricultural products, mainly maize, in exchange for iron tools. The Lenape would also arrange contacts between the Minquas or Susquehannocks and the Dutch and Swedish West India Companies to promote fur trading. The Native Americans were major producers of wampum or shell beads as well, which traditionally had been used for ritual purposes and ornaments. After the Dutch had arrived, they started exchanging wampum for beaver furs provided by the Iroquoian speaking Susquehannock and other Minquas. They would exchange these furs for Dutch, and from the late 1630s, also Swedish imports. The relations between some of the Lenape and Minqua polities would briefly turn sour in the late 1620s and early 1630s, but were relatively peaceful the rest of the time.

Lenape Mens Clothing
Lenape Men’s Clothing

The Dutch and Swedes were especially surprised at the Lenape’s skill in fashioning clothing from natural materials. In hot weather men and women would wear only a loin cloth and skirt respectively. However, in winter, they would use beaver pelts or bear skins to serve as mantles. Additionally, both may have worn buckskin leggings and moccasins in the cold weather. Deer hair, dyed in a deep scarlet, was a favorite component of headdresses and breast ornaments for men. The Lenape would also adorn themselves with various ornaments made of stone, shell, animal teeth and claws. Women would, quite often, wear headbands of dyed deer hair or wampum, and painted their skin skirts or decorated them with porcupine quills. These skirts were so elaborately appointed that, when seen from a distance, they reminded the Dutch of fine European lace. A woman’s winter cloak was also striking, and was fashioned entirely from iridescent body feathers of wild turkey.

The Lenape and European Contact

When explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano was greeted by the local Lenape who had come by canoe when his ship entered what is now called the Lower New York Bay in 1524, it was the Lenape’s first time meeting a European.

Their early interaction with Dutch traders in the 17th century was primarily through fur trading. The Lenape would trap and trade beaver pelts for European-made goods. According to a Dutch settler by the name of Isaac de Rasieres, who had observed the Lenape in 1628, their primary crop was maize and it was planted in March. They would quickly adopt European metal tools to harvest the crop. In May, the Lenape had planted kidney beans near their maize plants, which would later serve as a prop for their bean vines to climb. They’d also plant squash, of which the plant’s broad leaves would cut down on weeds and also conserved the moisture in the soil. Women devoted their summers to the field work and harvest crops in August. They would cultivate a variety of maize, squash and beans, and then they processed and cooked the food.

Men would limit their agricultural labor to clearing the fields and breaking the soil. They were instead the primary hunters and fishermen during the rest of the year. Dutch settler David de Vries, who stayed in the area from 1634-1644 described the Lenape hunt in the valley of the Achinigeu-hach (or “Ackingsah-sack” the Hackensack River), in which one hundred or more men had stood in a line many paces from one another, beating their thigh bones on their palms to drive animals to the river, where they could easily kill them. Other methods of hunting had included lassoing and drowning deer, as well as forming a circle around pray and setting the brush on fire.

The Early Colonial Era

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Lenape were a powerful Native American nation, who had inhabited the region on the mid-Atlantic coast, spanning the latitudes of southern Massachusetts to the southern extent of Delaware, into what anthropologists call the Northeastern Woodlands. Although never politically unified, the Confederation of Delaware roughly encompassed the area around and between Delaware and the lower Hudson rivers. Some of their place names, such as Manhattan (“the island of many hills”), Raritan and Tappan, were adopted by the Dutch and English colonists to identify the Lenape people that had lived there. Based on historical records of the mid-17th century, it has been estimated that most Lenape polities consisted of several hundred people. However, it is conceivable that some had been considerably larger before close contact with the Europeans, given the wars between the Susquehannocks and the Iroquois, both of whom were armed by Dutch fur traders, while the Lenape were at odds with the Dutch.

Smallpox devastated the native communities, even those located far from European settlements by the 1640s. The Lenape and Susquehannocks would fight a war in the middle of the 17th century, which would leave Delaware as a tributary state, even as the Susquehannocks defeated the Province of Maryland between 1642 and the 1650s.

The 17th Century Lenape

In 1624, the Dutch founded New Amsterdam, in what would later become New York City. The Dutch settlers also founded the colony at present-day Lewes, Delaware on the 3rd of June 1631 and named it Zwaanendael (Swan Valley). The colony would have a short life though. In 1632, a local band of Lenape killed thirty-two Dutch settlers after a misunderstanding had escalated over the Lenape defacement of insignia of the Dutch West India Company. Two years later, the Iroquoian-speaking Susquehannock went to war with them over access to trading with the Dutch at New Amsterdam. They would defeat the Lenape and some scholars now believe that the Lenape may have become tributaries to the Susquehannock as “uncles”.

The Iroquois would add the Lenape to their Covenant Chain in 1676 and they would become a tributary to the Five Nations (later six) until 1753, shortly before the outbreak of the French and Indian War and a part of the Seven Years’ War in Europe.

The Lenape’s quick adoption of trade goods and their need to trap furs to meet high European demand resulted in their disastrous over-harvesting of the beaver population in the lower Hudson Valley. With fur sources exhausted, the Dutch shifted their operations to present-day upstate New York. The tribe would also produce wampum in the vicinity of Manhattan Island, which temporarily forestalled the negative effects of the decline of the fur trade. The Lenape population fell drastically during this period due to high fatalities from epidemics of infectious diseases that the Europeans carried, such as measles and smallpox, of which the Lenape had no natural immunity to.

The native culture of the Lenape allowed for both the clan and individual families to control property. Europeans would often try to contract for land with the tribal chiefs, confusing their culture with that of the neighboring tribes, such as the Iroquois. The Indians would petition for grievances on the basis that not all of their families had been recognized in the transaction (not that they ever wanted to “share” the land). After the Dutch arrived in the 1620s, the Lenape were successful in restricting settlement until the 1660s to Pavonia in present-day Jersey City, along the Hudson. The Dutch would finally establish a garrison at Bergen, allowing for settlement west of the Hudson in the province of New Netherland. This land was purchased from the Lenape after the fact.

In 1682, William Penn and the Quaker colonists created the English colony of Pennsylvania, beginning at the lower Delaware River. A peace treaty was negotiated

William Penn
William Penn

between the newly arriving English and the Lenape, at what is now known as Penn Treaty Park. In the decades immediately after, some 20,000 new colonists arrived in the region, putting pressure on the Lenape settlements and their hunting grounds. Though Penn had endeavored to live peacefully with the Lenape and create a colony that would do the same, he also expected his authority and that of the colonial government to take precedence. Penn’s new colony had effectively displaced many of the Lenape and forced others to adapt to their new cultural demands. He would gain the reputation for benevolence and tolerance, but his efforts would result in a more effective colonization of the ancestral Lenape homeland than previous ones.

18th Century Lenape

In 1718, William Penn died. His heirs, John and Thomas Penn, and their agents were now running the colony and had abandoned many of their father’s practices. In trying to raise money, they contemplated ways to sell the Lenape’s land to colonial settlers. This resulted in the so-called Walking Purchase. During the mid-1730s, colonial administrators produced a draft of a land deed that dated back to the 1680s. William Penn had approached several leaders of the Lenape polities in the lower Delaware to discuss land sales further to the north. Since the land in question didn’t belong to their polities the talks came to nothing. However, colonial administrators had prepared the draft that resurfaced in the 1730s. The Penns and their supports tried to present the draft as a legitimate deed, but the Lenape leaders in the lower Delaware refused to accept it.

According to the historian, Steven Harper, what followed was a “convoluted sequence of deception, fraud, and extortion orchestrated by the Pennsylvania government that is commonly known as the Walking Purchase.” In the end, the Lenape polities would eventually retaliate by attacking Pennsylvania settlements. When they fought the British colonial expansion to a standstill at the height of the Seven Years’ War, the British government investigated what was causing the Lenape resentments. The British asked William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, to lead the investigation. Johnson had become wealthy as a trader and acquired thousands of acres of land in the Mohawk River Valley from the Iroquois Mohawk of New York.

Starting in the 18th century, the Moravian Church established their missions among the Lenape. The Moravians required that Christian converts share their pacifism, and were to live in structured and European-style mission villages. The Moravians pacifism and unwillingness to take loyalty oaths, had caused conflicts with the British authorities, who were seeking aide against the French and their Native American allies during the French and Indian Wars (the Seven Years’ War). Their insistence on the Christian Lenapes’ abandoning traditional warfare practices had alienated the mission populations from other Lenape and Native American groups, who revered warriors. The Moravians accompanied the Lenape to their re-locations in Ohio and Canada, continuing their missionary work along the way. The Moravian Lenape who settled permanently in Ontario after the American Revolutionary War were, at times, referred to as the “Christian Munsee,” as they had mostly spoke the Munsee branch of the Delaware language.

During the French and Indian War, the Lenape had initially sided with the French. They had hopes of preventing further British colonial encroachment in their territory, but, such leaders as Teedyuscung in the east and Tamaqua in the vicinity of modern-day Pittsburgh, shifted to building alliances with the English. At the end of the war though, Anglo-American settlers continued to kill the Lenape, to such an extent that historian Amy Schutt writes that the dead since the wars had outnumbered those that were killed during the war.

With the Treaty of Easton being signed in 1758 between the Lenape and the Anglo-American colonists, the Lenape were required to move westward, out of present-day New York and New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, then on to Ohio and beyond. Sporadically, they would continue to raid European-American settlers from far outside of the area.

In 1763, Bill Hickman of the Lenape, warned the English colonists in the Juniata River region of an impending attack. Many of the Lenape joined Pontiac’s War and many of them were involved in the besieging of Pittsburgh. In April, Teedyuscung was killed when his home was burned. His son, Captain Bull responded by attacking settlers from New England who had migrated to the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania. The settlers were sponsored by the Susquehanna Company. The Lenape became the first Indian tribe that entered into a treaty with the new United States government. With the Treaty of Fort Pitt being signed in 1778, during the Revolutionary War, the Lenape were living mostly in the Ohio Country and would supply the Continental Army with warriors and scouts in exchange for food, supplies and security.

The Lenape Displacements

After signing the Treaty of Easton in 1758, the Lenape were forced to move west, out of their native lands and into what is now known as Ohio, but not everyone went. During the American Revolution, Munsee-speaking Lenape bands of the Ohio Country (then called the Delaware), were deeply divided over which side, if any, to take in the conflict. These bands lived in numerous villages around their main village of Coshocton. At the time of the war, the Lenape villages were between the western frontier strongholds of the British and the Patriots. The American colonists had Fort Pitt (present-day Pittsburgh), and the British, with their Indian allies, control the area of Fort Detroit (present-day Michigan).

Some of the Lenape chose to take up arms against the American colonists and moved west, closer to Detroit, where they settled on the Scioto and Sandusky rivers. The Lenape that were sympathetic to the United States remained at Coshocton when their leaders signed the Treaty of Fort Pitt in 1778 with the Americans. Through this, the Lenape had hoped to establish the Ohio Country as a state inhabited exclusively by Native Americans, as part of the new United States. A third group of Lenape, many of whom had converted to Christianity, lived in several mission villages run by the Moravians. They spoke the Munsee branch of the Delaware, an Algonquian language. White Eyes, the Lenape chief who had negotiated the treaty would die in 1778.

Many of the Lenape at Coshocton would eventually join the war against the Americans. In response to this, Colonel Daniel Brodhead led an expedition out of Fort Pitt and on the 19th of April 1781 he destroyed Coshocton. The surviving residents fled to the north. Colonel Brodhead convinced the militia to leave the Lenape at the Moravian mission villages unmolested, since they were unarmed, non-combatants.

Brodhead had to restrain the militia from attacking the Moravian villages, which was a reflection of the brutal nature of frontier warfare. The violence would escalate on both sides and relations between the regular Continental Army officers from the East (such as Brodhead) and the western militia were frequently strained. Tensions grew even more when the American government’s policy of recruiting some Indian tribes as allies in the war was put into action. Western militiamen, and any who had lost friends and family in the Indian raids against the settlers’ encroachment, blamed all Indians for the acts of some.

In the early part of the 1770s, missionaries, including David Zeisberger and John Heckewelder, arrived in the Ohio country near the Delaware villages. The Moravian Church would send these men to convert the natives to Christianity. They set up several missions, including Gnadenhutten, Lichtenau, and Schoenbrunn. The missionaries had asked that the natives forsake all of their traditional customs and ways of life. Many of the Delaware did adopt Christianity, but others refused to do so. The Delaware would become a divided people during the 1770s, including in Killbuck’s family. They would resent his grandfather for letting the Moravians stay in the Ohio Country. Moravians believed in pacifism, but Killbuck believed that every convert to the Moravians would deprive the Delaware of a warrior to stop further white settlement of their land.

During the French and Indian War, Killbuck assisted the English against their French enemy. In 1761, he led an English supply train from Fort Pitt to Fort Sandusky. The British paid him one dollar a day to do so. Later, he became a leader in a very dangerous time for the Delaware. The American Revolution had just began, and Killbuck found his people caught between the English in the West and the Americans in the East. At the end of the war, Killbuck would permit American soldiers to traverse the Delaware territory, so that soldiers could attack Fort Detroit. In return, Killbuck requested that Americans build a fort near the natives’ major village of Coshocton to provide the Delaware with protection from English attacks. The Americans agreed and built Fort Laurens, which they had garrisoned.

Other Indian groups, especially the Wyandot, Mingo, and Munsee, the Shawnee and Wolf Clan of the Delaware, all favored the British. They had believed that by their proclamation of 1763, which restricted Anglo-American settlement to the east of the Appalachian Mountains, that the British would help them preserve a Native American territory. The British planned an attack on Fort Laurens in early 1778, demanding that neutral Delawares formally side with the British. Killbuck warned the Americans of the planned attack. His actions helped to save the fort, but the Americans would abandon it in August of 1779. The Delaware had lost their protectors and, in theory, faced attacks from the British, their native allies, and the American settlers who had flooded into the area in the late 1770s and early 1780s after the war. Most of the Delaware formally joined the British, after the American withdrawal from Fort Laurens. In facing pressure from the British, Americans and even his fellow natives, Killbuck, hoped a policy of neutrality would save his people from destruction, but it did not.

The Lenape of the 19th Century

The amateur anthropologist, Silas Wood, published a book claiming that there were several American Indian tribes that were distinct to Long Island, New York. He collectively called these peoples the Metoac. Modern scientific scholarship has shown that two linguistic groups represented two Algonquian cultural identities that lived on the island, not “13 individual tribes” as was asserted by Wood. The bands to the west were Lenape and to the east were the more culturally related Algonquian tribes of New England, across the Long Island Sound, such as the Pequot. Wood and earlier settlers had often misinterpreted the Indian use of place names for identity as indicating their names for “tribes”.

Over a period of 176 years, European settlers progressively crowded the Lenape out of the East Coast and Ohio, pressing them to move further to the west. Most members of the Munsee-language branch of the Lenape would leave the United States after the British were defeated in the American Revolutionary War. Their descendants now live on three Indian reserves in western Ontario, Canada. These are the descendants of those Lenape of the Ohio Country who sided with the British during the Revolution. The largest reserve is at Moraviantown in Ontario, where the Turtle Phratry had settled in 1792 after the war.

Two groups would migrate to Oneida County in New York by 1802, these were the Brotherton Indians of New Jersey and the Stockbridge-Munsee. After 1819, they removed to Wisconsin, under the pressure from the state and local governments.

From Indiana to Missouri

By the Treaty of St. Mary’s, signed on the 3rd of October, 1818 in St. Mary’s, Ohio, the Delaware gave up their lands in Indiana for lands west of the Mississippi, and received an annuity of $4,000. Over the next few years, the Delaware settled on the James River in Missouri, near its confluence with Wilsons Creek. They would eventually occupy about 40,000 acres of the approximately 2,000,000 that had been allotted to them. The town of Anderson, Indiana is named after Chief William Anderson, whose father was actually Swedish. Delaware Village, in Indiana, was called Anderson’s Town, while the Delaware Village in Missouri, on the James River, was often called Anderson’s Village. The tribes’ cabins and cornfields were spread out along the James River and Wilson’s Creek.

Lenape’s Role In Western History

Many of the Delaware would participate in the exploration of the western United States. They’d work as trappers and mountain men, as well as guides and hunters for the wagon trains. The Lenape served as army guides and scouts in events such as the Second Seminole War, Fremont’s expeditions, and the conquest of California during the Mexican-American War. On occasion, they would play surprising roles as Indian allies.

Sagundai accompanied one of Fremont’s expeditions as one of his Delaware guides. From California, Fremont needed to communicate with Senator Benton. Sagundai would volunteer to carry the message through some 2,200 kilometers of hostile territory. He took many scalps in his adventure, including that of a Comanche with a particularly fine horse, who had outrun both Sagundai and other Comanche. Sagundai was thrown from his horse when it stepped into a prairie-dog hole, but he was able to avoid the Comanche’s lance, shot the warrior dead, and caught his horse, escaping the other Comanche. When he returned to his own people in, what is today Kansas, they celebrated his exploits with the last war and scalp dances of their history. These had been held at Edwardsville, Kansas.

The Kansas Reservation

By the terms set with the “Treaty of the James Fork” on the 24th of September, 1829, and ratified by the United States Senate in 1830, the Delaware were forced to move further west. They were granted lands on the James Fork River and of the White River in Missouri. These lands, in what is now Kansas, were west of Missouri and north of the Kansas River. The Lenape’s main reserve consisted of about 1,000,000 acres with an additional “outlet” strip, ten miles wide and extending to the west.

Congress would pass the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which created the Territory of Kansas and opened up the area to more white settlements. It also authorized a negotiation with the Indian tribes regarding their removal. The Delaware were reluctant to negotiate with them for yet another relocation, but they feared serious trouble with the white settlers, and conflict would develop.

As the Delaware were not considered to be United States citizens, they had no access to the courts and no way to enforce their property rights. The United States Army was to enforce their rights to the reservation land after an Indian Agent had both posted a public notice warning trespassers and served a written notice on them. This process was generally considered to be onerous. Major B.F. Robinson, an Indian Agent appointed in 1855, did his best, but couldn’t control the hundreds of white trespassers who stole stock, cut timber, and built houses and squatted on the Delaware lands. By 1860, the Indians reached a consensus to leave Kansas, which was in accord with the government’s Indian removal policy.

On to Oklahoma

The main body of Lenape would arrive in the 1860s to their Indian Territory. The two federally recognized tribes of the Lenape in Oklahoma are the Delaware Nation, who are headquarted in Anadarko, Oklahoma, and the Delaware Tribe of Indians, which are headquarted in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

The Delaware Tribe of Indians had been required to purchase their land from the reservation of the Cherokee Nation. They would make two payments in the amount of $438,000. A court dispute followed over whether this sale had included rights for the Delaware as citizens within the Cherokee Nation. While the dispute was unsettled, the Curtis Act of 1898 dissolved tribal governments and had ordered the allotment of communal tribal lands to individual households of members of tribes. After the lands were allotted in 160-acre lots to tribal members in 1907, the government sold “surplus” land to those that were not Indians.


The Delaware would migrate into Texas in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Some Delaware migrated from Missouri to Texas in about 1820, settling around the Red River and Sabine River. They were peaceful and shared their territory in Spanish Texas with the Caddo and other immigrating bands, as well as with Spanish and the ever-increasing American population. This peaceful trend would continue after Mexico won their independence from Spain in 1821.

In 1828, the Mexican General Manuel de Mier y Teran, made an inspection of eastern Mexican Texas. He estimated that the region had housed somewhere between 150 and 200 Delaware families. The Delaware would request that he issue them land grants and send teachers, so that they may learn to read and write the Spanish language. General Teran was impressed with how well they had adapted to Mexican culture, and thus, sent their request to Mexico City, the authorities would end up never granting the Delaware any legal titles.

The situation changed when the Texas Revolution began in 1835. The officials of Texas were eager to gain the support of the Texas tribes and so offered to recognize their land claims by sending three commissioners to negotiate a treaty. The treaty was agreed upon in February of 1836, which mapped the boundaries of Indian lands, but this agreement was never officially ratified by the Texas government.

The Delaware remained friendly after Texas won its independence and the Republic of Texas President, Sam Houston, favored the policy of peaceful relations with all of the tribes in the area. He sought out the services of the friendly Delaware and in 1837 enlisted several of them to protect the frontier from hostile western tribes. Scouts joined with the Texas Rangers as they patrolled the western frontier. Houston would also try to get the Delaware land claims recognized, but his efforts were only met by opposition.

Sam Houston
Sam Houston, 1st President of Texas

The next Texan President, Mirabeau B. Lamar, had completely opposed all Indians. He considered them to be illegal intruders who had threatened the settlers safety and lands, thus he issued an order for their removal from Texas. The Delaware were then sent north of the Red River into Indian Territory, however, a few of them scattered around Texas.

In 1841, Houston was re-elected to his second term as president and his peaceful Indian policy was then reinstated. A treaty with the remaining Delaware, and a few other tribes was negotiated in 1843 at Fort Bird. The Delaware were enlisted to help him make a new peace with the Comanche as well. Delaware scouts and their families were allowed to settle along the Brazos and Bosque rivers, so as to influence the Comanche to come to the Texas government for a peace conference. The plan would end up being successful and the Delaware helped bring the Comanches to a treaty council in 1844.

During 1845, the Republic of Texas agreed to the annexation by the United States to become an American state. The Delaware would continue their peaceful policy with the Americans and served as interpreters, scouts and diplomats for the United States Army and the Indian Bureau. Two years later, John Meusebach was assisted by Jim Shaw (Delaware), in settling the German communities in the Texas Hill Country. For the rest of his life, Shaw had worked as a military scout in West Texas. In 1848, John Conner, of the Delaware, guided the Chihuahua-El Paso Expedition, and was granted a league of land by a special act of the Texas legislature in 1853. The expeditions of the map maker Randolph B. Marcy through West Texas in 1849, 1852, and 1854 were guided by the Delaware Indian, Black Beaver.

In 1854, despite the history of peaceful relations, the last of the Texas Delaware were moved by the American government again. This time to the Brazos Indian Reservations near Graham, Texas. During 1859, the United States chose to force the remaining Delaware to remove from Texas to a location on the Washita River in the vicinity of what is now Anadarko, Oklahoma.

The Lenape in the 20th and 21st Centuries

In 1979, the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs revoked the Delaware who were living among the Cherokee in Oklahoma’s tribal status. They began to count the Delaware as the Cherokee. It wasn’t until 1996 that the Delaware had this decision overturned and were recognized by the federal government as a separate tribal nation.

The Cherokee Nation filed a suit to overturn the independent federal recognition of the Delaware and the tribe lost their federal recognition again in a 2004 court ruling in favor of the Cherokee Nation. They would regain it, yet again, on the 28th of July 2009. After recognition, the tribe reorganized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act. Members would then approve a constitution and by laws in a May 26th, 2009 vote. Jeff Douglas was elected a tribal chief at this time.

In September 2000, the Delaware Nation of Oklahoma received 11.5 acres of land in Thornburry Township, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Four years later, they would file suit against Pennsylvania in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, seeking to reclaim the 315 acres that was included in the 1737 Walking Purchase so that they could build a casino. In the suit titled “The Delaware Nation v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” the plaintiffs, acting as successor in interest and political continuation of the Lenni Lenape and of the Lenape Chief “Moses” Tundy Tatamy, claimed to be aboriginal and the title to 315 acres of land that was located in Forks Township in Northampton County, near the town of Tatamy, Pennsylvania.

After the Walking Purchase, Chief Tatamy was granted legal permissions for him and his family to remain on this parcel of land, known as “Tatamy’s Place”. In addition to suing the state, the tribe also sued the township, the county and elected officials, including Governor Ed Rendell.

The court held that justness of the extinguishment of the aboriginal title is nonjusticiable, including in the case of fraud, since the extinguishment occurred prior to the passage of the first Indian Nonintercourse Act in 1790, which did not avail the Delaware.

As a result, the court granted the Commonwealth’s motion to dismiss. It its conclusion, the court stated:

“…we find that the Delaware Nations’ aboriginal rights to Tatamy’s Place were extinguished in 1737 and that, later, fee title to the land was granted to Chief Tatamy-not to the tribe as a collectivity.”


The Miami Tribe

The Miami were another Native American nation and were among the peoples of the Great Lakes tribes. They originally spoke one of the Algonquian languages and occupied the territory that is now identified as Indiana, Southwest Michigan and western Ohio.

During 1846, most of the Miami had been removed to the Indian Territory, now in Oklahoma. The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma is the only federally recognized tribe of Miami Indians in the United States. The Miami Nation of Indiana is an unrecognized tribe.

The Miami Name

The Miami name derives from Myaamia (the plural being Myaamiaki), the tribe’s autonym (name for themselves), in their Algonquian language of Miami-Illinois. This appears to have been derived from an even older term, meaning “downstream people”. Some scholars contended that the Miami called themselves Twightwee (also spelled as Twatwa), supposedly an onomatopoeic reference to their sacred bird, the sandhill crane. More recent studies have shown that Twightwee derives from the Delaware language exonym for the Miamis, tuwehtuwe, a name of unknown etymology. Some of the Miami have stated that this was only a name used by other tribes for the Miami, and not their autonym. They’ve also called themselves the Mihtohseeniaki, meaning the people. The Miami continue to use this autonym even today.

Miami Prehistory

The early Miami peoples are considered to belong to the Fischer Tradition of Mississippian culture. The Mississippian societies had been characterized by a maize-based agriculture, chiefdom-level social organization, extensive regional trade networks, hierarchical settlement patterns, and other factors. The historical Miami had engaged in hunting, as did the other Mississippian peoples.

During historic times, the Miami were known to have migrated to the south and eastwards from Wisconsin, between the mid-17th century to mid-18th century. By this time they had settled on the upper Wabash River in what is now northwestern Ohio. The migration was most likely a result of the Miami being invaded during the protracted Beaver Wars by the more powerful Iroquois, who had traveled far in strong organized groups (war parties) from their territory in the central and western parts of New York, for better hunting during the peak of the eastern beaver fur trader days. The Dutch and French traders, and after 1652, the British, fueled the demand for furs. The warfare and social disruption contributed to the decimation of the Native American populations. However, the major factor for fatalities was from infectious diseases that were brought to America by the Europeans, the Miami would have no immunity to these and would quickly succumb.

The Miami Meet the Europeans

When the French missionaries had first encountered the Miami in the mid-17th century, the indigenous people were living around the western shores of Lake Michigan. The Miami had reportedly moved there due to the pressure from the Iroquois, who were further to the east. The early French explorers noticed that many linguistic and cultural similarities were between the Miami bands and the Illiniwek, a loose confederacy of Algonquian-speaking peoples.

At this time there were several major bands of the Miami. The first was the Atchakangouen, also known as the Atchat chakangouen, the Atchakangouen, the Greater Miami, or the Crane Band. They were named after their leading clan and were the largest of the Miami clans. Their main village was at Kekionga (“blackberry bush”). Which was at the confluence of the Saint Joseph, (Kociihsa Sippiiwi) (“Bean River”), the Saint Marys (Nameewa Siipiiwi/Mameewa Siipiiwi) (“River of the Atlantic sturgeon”) and the Maumee River (Tawaawa Siipiiwi) (“River of the Odawa”), which was on the western edge of the Great Black Swamp, in present-day Indiana. This place was also known as saakiiweeki taawaawa siipiiwi (literally, “the confluence of the Maumee River”). The capital of the Miami confederacy was Kekionga/Kiihkayonki.

The second of the major bands was the Kilatika, Kilatak, or Kiratika, as they were known as to the French. They would later be known by the English as well, as the Eel River Band of the Miamis. Their autonym was Kineepikomeekwaki, “People along the Snake-Fish-River, I.e., the Eel River”. Their main village, Kineepikwameekwa/Kenapekwamakwah/Kenapocomoco (“Snake-Fish-Town” or “Eel River Village”) had moved its location from the headwaters of the Eel River, down to its mouth into the Wabash River in northern Indiana. Today this would have been from Logansport, Indiana down to Columbia City, Indiana. The Kilatika Band of the French years had their main village at the confluence of the Kankakee River and Des Plaines Rivers, so as to form the Illinois River about sixteen kilometers southwest of what is today Joliet, Illinois.

Other major bands were the Mengakonkia or Mengkonia, or “Little Turtle” people and the Pepikokia, or Pepicokea, later known as the Tepicon Band or Tippecanoe Band. Their autonym was Kiteepihkwana, “People of the Place of the buffalo fish”. Their main village, Kithtippecanuck/Kiteepihkwana, “Place of the buffalo fish”, moved its location at various times from the headwaters of the Tippecanoe River to the east of Old Tip Town, Indiana and to its mouth into the Wabash River, near Lafayette, Indiana.

Another band was the Piankeshaw, Piankashaw, or Pianguichia. Their autonym is Peeyankihsiaki or in English “those who separate” or “those who split of”. They had lived in several villages along the White River. In western Indiana they lived on the Vermillion River and in Illinois along the Wabash Rivers. Later they lived along the Great Miami River (Rocky River) in western Ohio. Their first main village, Peeyankihsionki (“Place of the Peeyankihsiaki) was at the confluence of the Vermillion River and the Wabash River (near Cayuga, Indiana). One of their more minor settlements was at the confluence of the main tributaries of the Vermillion River, near what is now Danville, Illinois. Their second important settlement was named Aciipihkahkionki/Chippekawkay/Chippecoke or “Place of the edible root.” It was situated at the mouth of the Embarras River, near Vincennes, Indiana. In the 18th century, their third settlement outside of the Wabash River Valley was named, it being Pinkwaawilenionki or Pickawillany, in English this meant “Ash Place”. It was erected along the Great Miami River and would later develop into Piqua, Ohio.

The final main band of the Miami was the Wea, or Wiatonon, Quiatanon, or Ouaouiatanoukak. Their autonym was Waayaahtanooki or Waayaahtanwa, meaning “People of the place of the whirlpool”. This was because their main village, Waayaahtanonki, was at the riverside where a whirlpool was in the river. The term Ouiatanon was both in reference to a group of extinct five Wea settlements or to their historic tribal lands along the Middle Wabash Valley, which was between the Eel River to the north and the Vermillion River to the south. The “real” Quiatanon were at the mouth of the Wea Creek and into the Wabash River area, which was their main village.

During 1696, Comte de Frontenac had appointed Jean Baptiste Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes, as the commander of the French outposts in the northeast of Indiana and the southwest area of Michigan. He would befriend the Miami peoples and settled first at the St. Joseph River. In 1704, he set up trading posts and a fort at Kekionga, present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana.

In the 18th century, the Miami had, for the most part, returned to their homeland in present-day Indiana and Ohio. Eventually, the victory of the British in the French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War), led to an increased British presence in the traditional Miami areas. In shifting alliances and gradual encroachment of the European-American settlement, some of the Miami bands were forced to merge together. The Native Americans would create larger tribal confederacies, which were led by Chief Little Turtle. Their alliances were for waging war against the Europeans and to fight off advancing white settlers. By the end of the century, the tribal divisions that were left were the Miami, Piankeshaw and Wea. These latter two groups were closely aligned with some of the Illinitribes. The United States government would later include them with the Illini for administrative purposes. The Eel River band maintained somewhat of a separate status, which proved beneficial in the removals during the 19th century of the Native Americans.

The United States and the Tribal Divide

The Miami had mixed relations with the United States. Some of the villages of the Piankeshaw had openly supported the American rebel colonists during the American Revolution, while other villages around Ouiatenon were only hostile towards them. The Miami of Kekionga would remain allies with the British, but they were not openly hostile towards the United States either, except when they were attacked by Augustin de la Balme in 1780.

The government of the United States didn’t trust their neutrality though and U.S. forces would attack Kekionga several times during the Northwest Indian War, shortly after the American Revolution. Each attack was repulsed, including the battle known as St. Clair’s Defeat. This battle was recognized as the worst defeat of an American army by Native Americans in the history of the United States. The Northwest Indian War would end with the Battle of Fallen Timbers and the Treaty of Greenville. The Miami who still resented the United States gathered around Ouiatenon and Prophetstown, where the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh would lead a coalition of Native American nations. The territorial governor, William Henry Harrison and his forces would destroy Prophetstown in 1811. They would then use the War of 1812 as a pretext for attacks on Miami villages throughout the Indiana Territory.

The Treaty of Mississin was signed in 1826, and forced the Miami to cede most of their lands to the United States government. It had also allowed Miami lands to be held as private property by individuals, where the tribe had formerly held the land in common. At the time of the Indian Removal in 1846, the Miami who had held separate allotments of land were allowed to stay as citizens in Indiana, those who affiliated with the tribe still were moved to reservations to the west of the Mississippi River, first to Kansas then to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

The divide made among the Miami people still exists today. The United States government has recognized the Western Miami as an official tribal government since the divide in 1846 though. Migration between the tribes had made it quite difficult to track affiliations and power for bureaucrats and historians alike. Today, the western tribe is federally recognized as the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, with 3,553 enrolled members.

The Indiana Miami (or Eastern Miami) have their own tribal government, but they lack federal recognition, even though they had been recognized by the U.S. in their 1854 treaty. Their recognition was revoked in 1897 though. During 1980, the Indiana legislature would recognize the Eastern Miami and voted to support their federal recognition. In the later part of the 20th century, United States Senator, Richard Lugar, introduced a bill that would recognize the Eastern Miami, but he withdrew his support because of constituent concerns over gambling rights. In more recent decades, numerous federally recognized tribes in other states have established gambling casinos and related facilities on their sovereign lands. These such establishments have helped some tribes raise revenues to devote to economic development, health and education. On the 26th of July, 1993, a federal judge ruled that the Eastern Miami were recognized by the United States in 1854 and that the federal government had no right to strip them of their status in 1897. However, he also ruled that the statute of limitations on appealing their status had expired. The Miami would no longer have any right to sue.


The Shawnee Tribe

The Shawnee are a federally recognized Native American tribe in Oklahoma. They are also known as the Loyal Shawnee and are one of the three federally recognized Shawnee tribes. The other two are the Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.

Shawnee Government

The government of the Shawnee have their headquarters in Miami, Oklahoma. There are currently 2,226 tribal members enrolled in the tribe and 1,070 of these are living within the state of Oklahoma. Ron Sparkman is the elected chairman and currently is serving a four-year term.

Shawnee Economic Development

One thing that I had found interesting about the Shawnee Tribe, is that they issue their own tribal vehicle tags and operate their own housing authority, as well as a tribal smoke shop. They also have some other businesses, known as the Shawnee Trails Gift Shop and Gallery, Shawnee Development LLC, and Shawnee Heritage Government Solutions. Their annual economic impact has been estimated by the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commissions to be at about three million dollars. Shawnee Development LLC is an economic development corporation that was established in 2001. It is owned by the tribe, but conducts business separately from the general government functions. Another business, the Shawnee Journal, is a newspaper that is published by the tribe and distributed at no cost to all tribal members.

Shawnee Culture and History

There are some ceremonies that are traditional to the Shawnee, such as the Spring and Fall Bread Dance, the Green Corn ceremony, and stomp dances that are still held to this day. These take place in White Oak, Oklahoma. Some of the Shawnee are also members of the Native American Church peyote ceremonies, with most of them attending in the winter, outside of the traditional Shawnee ceremonial cycle.

The Shawnee Tribe are one of the Eastern Woodland tribes, having originally came from Ohio and Pennsylvania. These people were the last of the Shawnee to leave their traditional homelands. During the 18th century, with European-American encroachment, the Shawnee lands became crowded, one of the Shawnee bands would migrate to Missouri, and eventually became the Absentee Shawnee. Three reservations were granted to the Shawnee in Ohio by the 1817 Treaty of Fort Meigs, these were Wapakoneta, Lewistown and Hog Creek. After the Indian Removal Act of 1830 had passed, another Shawnee band would relocate to Indian Territory in July of 1831. The final band would leave and became the Shawnee Tribe in August of 1831, relocating to Kansas. Their lands there were drastically reduced in 1854 though and were broken up into individual allotments in 1858.

During the Civil War, many of the Shawnee fought for the Union. This decision would inspire their name of the “Loyal Shawnee”. Instead of receiving compensation or honor for their service, the Shawnee returned to their Kansas lands, only to find that much of it was taken over by non-Indian homesteaders. The settlers would grant 130,000 acres of Shawnee land, while 70,000 acres would remain to the tribe. Only 20,000 of these acres were granted to the Absentee Shawnee.

Kansas would become its own state in 1861 and the white man of Kansas demanded that all Indian tribes must be removed from the state. The Loyal Shawnee made an agreement with the Cherokee Nation in 1869, allowing for seventy-two Shawnee to gain citizenship within the Cherokee tribe. They would also receive allotments of Cherokee land. They would predominantly settle in what is now Craig and Rogers Counties in Oklahoma and thus became known as the “Cherokee Shawnee”. They primarily settled in the areas of Bird Creek, now known as Sperry; Hudson Creek, now known as Fairland; and White Oak. The Shawnee Reservation in Kansas was never legally dissolved and some of the Shawnee families still hold their allotments in the state.

Beginning in the 1980s, the Shawnee Tribe started an effort to regain their own tribal status, independent of the Cherokee Nation. Congress would pass Public Law 106-568, the Shawnee Tribe Status Act of 2000. The Shawnee were able to organize as their own autonomous, federally recognized tribe at that time. James R. Squirrel was the initial Chairman and was recognized by AARP in 2009, as being instrumental in the Shawnee Tribe being given their federal recognition.


2 thoughts on “North America’s Northeast Indian Tribes”

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